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Hertfordshire County Council (21 015 907)

Category : Children's care services > Disabled children

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 28 Feb 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We uphold Ms X’s complaint, as the Council delayed considering a complaint at stage two of the children’s statutory complaints procedure. The Council has agreed to complete its stage two without further delay.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I will call Ms X, complained to the Council in September 2021 about children services actions.

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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. 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 Mrs X and the Council.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
  3. I considered Mrs X’s comments on a draft version of this 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 from the date of request.
  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 of the date of request, and then issue a final response within 20 days of the panel hearing.

What happened

  1. Ms X complained in September 2021 about the children services actions. Her complaint included the quality of an assessment, delays in the assessment, the provision of support and communication. She says the Council has failed to provide support and services to her children.
  2. The Council replied two weeks later. Ms X made a detailed written request for her complaint to be escalated to Stage Two of the Children Act statutory complaints procedure at the end of September 2021. That stage has still not been completed and should have been by around the end of December 2021.
  3. The Council say a statement of complaint has not been agreed. It held a meeting to discuss the statement of complaint in December, shortly before it should have completed the investigation. Our practitioners guide provides guidance on when the statement of complaint has not been agreed. The Council has six broad complaints which match those set out by Ms X in her stage one complaint.
  4. An investigation is likely to conclude the Council’s delay here is failure to comply with the statutory complaints’ procedure and is fault.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed to:
    • Give Ms X a time limited opportunity to explain how the statement of complaint is not accurate.
    • Then within 65 working days complete a stage two investigation and writes to Ms X to inform her of the outcome, ensuring it provides her appropriate information about her rights under the process.

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Final decision

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

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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