Norfolk County Council (18 008 743)

Category : Children's care services > Friends and family carers

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 09 Jan 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr S complains the Council failed to properly assess him and his wife as special guardians for his grandson. It then failed to send him a copy of the assessment but informed the court he had not challenged it. The investigation is being discontinued because the matters complained of can now be considered by the court.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr S, says the Council acted with fault by failing to properly assess him and his wife as potential Special Guardians for their grandson. When the Council completed the assessment, it then did not send it to him, which meant he did not have the opportunity to challenge it. The Council subsequently informed the court that Mr S had not challenged it but this was because he did not have a copy to enable him to challenge it.
  2. I am discontinuing the investigation into this complaint because I cannot achieve more for Mr S than has already been offered by the Council and because these matters are best dealt with by the Court.

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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’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
  • there is another body better placed to consider this complaint. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  1. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)
  2. We can decide whether to start or discontinue an investigation into a complaint within our jurisdiction. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information received from Mr S with his complaint and made enquiries of the Council and assessed its response. I sent Mr S and the Council a copy of my draft decision and took comments they made into account before issuing a decision.

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What I found

  1. The Council assessed Mr and Mrs S’s suitability as special guardians for their grandson and concluded they would not be appropriate carers. Mr S says the assessment was not done properly as they were not visited at home as part of the process. When the assessment was completed, Mr S did not receive a copy although it was circulated to everyone involved in the court process, which was deciding on the future plan for their grandson.
  2. The Council has advised Mr and Mrs S it will inform the court, at the next hearing, that the viability assessment was not sent to them when it should have been. It will also tell the court that Mr and Mrs S wish to challenge its content and that they were unable to do so previously because they did not have a copy. Part of Mr S’s complaint was that the Council had previously told the court he did not wish to challenge the assessment, which was incorrect. The court can then decide whether a further assessment of Mr and Mrs S should be undertaken.
  3. The Council has told me Mr and Mrs S have been given permission to file a statement to the court in response to their viability assessment before a final order is made.
  4. Only courts can decide where children live and it is also up to courts to decide whether they have sufficient evidence to make these decisions. The court will hear about the Council’s actions leading to this. Mr and Mrs S were not previously party to the court hearing so were unable to input to the discussions about how their grandson should be cared for in the future. The court is the body best placed to consider the matters Mr and Mrs S have complained of to the Ombudsman.
  5. As I cannot achieve more for Mr and Mrs S, I am discontinuing my investigation and closing the complaint.

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Final decision

  1. I have discontinued my investigation and closed the complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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