The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman has closed this complaint alleging fault by the Council because it failed to pay the complainants the fostering rate they had agreed. The complaint was independently investigated through the statutory complaints procedure. The Ombudsman did not find fault with the independent investigation of the complaint or its outcome.
- The complainants, whom I will call Mr and Mrs D, complained that Surrey County Council failed to support them properly when they were fostering Child A. Mr and Mrs D said the Council
- refused to pay double the normal fostering allowance contrary to their original agreement;
- would not agree that Child A needed two full time carers to meet his needs; and
- said they could not foster any other children while Child A was in their care.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. She must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. She provides a free service, but must use public money carefully. She may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if she believes it is unlikely she could add to any previous investigation by the Council.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))
- The law sets out a three stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. At stage 2 of this procedure, the Council appoints an Independent Investigator and an Independent Person (who is responsible for overseeing the investigation). If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the stage 2 investigation, they can ask for a stage 3 review. If a council has investigated something under this procedure, the Ombudsman would not normally re-investigate it. However, she may look at whether a council properly considered the findings and recommendations of the independent investigation.
- The Ombudsman cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. She must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3))
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the documents provided by the Council. I sent a draft decision to Mr and Mrs D and the Council. I considered the comments of both parties in reply.
What I found
- Mr and Mrs D are foster carers for the Council and are approved to look after three children, two on a temporary or long term basis and one on a respite basis.
- When Child A moved into their home Mr and Mrs D were fostering two other children, a teenage girl and a baby. These two children moved out of the family home, leaving Child A as the only fostered child remaining.
- Mr and Mrs D believed the Council told them that they would receive a double fostering allowance for Child A because of his particular support needs. The Council says this was never agreed.
- Mr and Mrs D told the Council that Child A needed two adults to supervise him but the Council did not agree with their view.
- Mr and Mrs D believed the Council would not place any other children with them while Child A was in their care. The Council disputes this was their view.
- Mr and Mrs D complained to the Council and their complaint was investigated under stage 2 of the statutory complaints procedure. The outcome of the investigation was that two of the complaints were not upheld and one was partially upheld. The Council met with Mr and Mrs D to discuss the investigation. Mr and Mrs D told the Council that they had no problem with the investigation but did not agree with the decisions.
- The Council has investigated Mr and Mrs D’s complaints through the statutory complaints procedure. Mr and Mrs D do not agree with the stage 2 investigator’s decisions but have not raised any concerns about the way the investigation was carried out. The Ombudsman cannot question whether a decision is right or wrong just because the complainant disagrees with it. She can only look at decisions that have been reached following a faulty process. I am satisfied there was no fault in the way the Council reached its final decision on this complaint.
- The Council investigated Mr and Mrs D’s complaint through the statutory complaints procedure and provided them with an outcome. I have decided to close this complaint because I did not find fault in the way the Council reached its decision.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman