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London Borough of Richmond upon Thames (21 004 772)

Category : Children's care services > Disabled children

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 03 Aug 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council is at fault in that it unreasonably delayed responding to Ms B’s complaint about the support provided to her disabled child. The Council has agreed to complete its Stage 2 investigation without further delay and to offer to make a payment to Ms B to remedy the unnecessary uncertainty and distress the delay has caused her.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I will refer to as Ms B, complains the Council has failed to provide her and her disabled child with support she believes is appropriate. She further complains that the Council has unreasonably delayed responding to her complaint.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
  3. Under our information sharing agreement, we will share the final decision with the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted).

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by the complainant and the Council.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
  3. I have considered the complainant’s comments on my draft decision.

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My assessment

The statutory complaints procedure

  1. The law sets out a three-stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. The accompanying statutory guidance, Getting the Best from Complaints, explains councils’ responsibilities in more detail.
  2. The first stage of the procedure is local resolution. Councils have up to 20 working days to respond.
  3. If a complainant is not happy with a council’s stage one response, they can ask that it is considered at stage two. At this stage of the procedure, councils appoint an investigator and an independent person who is responsible for overseeing the investigation. Councils have up to 13 weeks to complete stage two of the process.
  4. If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the stage two investigation, they can ask for a stage three review by an independent panel. The Council must hold the panel within 30 days, and then issue a final response within 20 days of the panel hearing.

Analysis

  1. The Council is considering Ms B's complaint under the statutory procedure for children's services complaints. It responded to her complaint at stage one in October 2020, and Ms B says she immediately requested escalation to stage two. Stage two has not yet concluded.
  2. The stage two process should have been completed by January 2021 and is therefore now some six months late. The Council's failure to meet statutory timeframes is fault, which has caused Ms B unnecessary uncertainty and distress.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed that, within 1 month of the date of my final decision, it will:
  • complete stage two by writing to Mrs B to inform her of the outcome, ensuring it provides her appropriate information about her rights under the process, and
  • offer to make a payment of £200 to Ms B to remedy the time and trouble she has gone to in pursuing the complaint and to reflect the six-month delay in stage two of the process.

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Final decision

  1. I uphold this complaint with a finding of fault causing injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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