Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 21 Jan 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council was at fault for delays in agreeing funding for an extension to Mr C’s property, in order to create an extra bedroom for his grandson who was placed in his care in 2016. This fault has resulted in the family living in cramped conditions. The Council has agreed to offer a payment to remedy this injustice.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr C, complains about how long it took the Council to agree funding for an extension to his property. The purpose of the extension was to create an extra bedroom to accommodate Mr C’s grandson who was placed in his care. I shall refer to Mr C’s grandson as Z. Mr C says the delays led to his family living in cramped conditions.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
- Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.
How I considered this complaint
- As part of the investigation, I have:
- considered the complaint and information received from Mr C; and
- reviewed and considered information received from the Council; and
- considered the relevant legislation and Council policy; and
- communicated with Mr C about his complaint.
What I found
Relevant law & guidance
- If a local authority thinks there is reasonable cause to believe that a child is suffering; or is likely to suffer significant harm; either because the care the child’s parents are giving him or her is not adequate; or because the child is out of the parents’ control, then they can apply to the court for a care order to authorise the long term removal of the child from the parents’ care. (sections 31 and 38, Children Act 1989)
- A care order gives the local authority the power to make plans for the child’s future. The local authority may make plans to provide accommodation for the child with alternative family carers or foster carers.
- A Looked after Child is any child who is subject to a care order or accommodated away from their family by a local authority under section 20 of Children Act 1989. The accommodation can be voluntary or by care order. The child becomes looked after when the local authority has accommodated them for a continuous period of longer than 24 hours.
- If the carer becomes a ‘Friends and Family’ foster carer, the carer is entitled to receive a fostering allowance and other practical support for them and the child from the council. The fostering allowance is provided to cover the costs of caring for the child.
- There are National Minimum Standards (NMS) applicable to the provision of fostering services. The NMS, together with regulations relevant to the placement of children in foster care such as the Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 (the 2011 Regulations), form the basis of the regulatory framework under the Care Standards Act 2000 (CSA) for the conduct of fostering services.
- Standard 10 of the Care Standards Act refers to the provision of a suitable physical environment for a foster child. It explains that each child over the age of three should have their own bedroom. If this is not possible, the sharing of a bedroom is agreed by the local authority and each child has their own area within the bedroom.
- Mr C lives with his wife, son and daughter in a three-bedroom property. In September 2016, Z was placed in his care. Mr C is therefore acting as a friends and family foster carer for Z.
- At the time Mr C’s daughter was at university, so Z was able to use her room. This was a temporary measure, because Mr C’s daughter was due to return to the family home in July 2018.
- During the summer of 2017, Mr C applied for funding for an extension to his property to accommodate Z. He subsequently submitted 3 different quotes for the works.
- Around the same time Mr C explored the possibility of obtaining a Special Guardianship Order (SGO). However, he told the Council he would not commit to this until funding for the extension to his property had been agreed.
- In July 2018, Mr C’s daughter returned to the family home. Funding for the extension to the property had not been agreed, she therefore had to sleep on a sofa in the living room.
- The Council told Mr C the panel meeting to consider funding had met in July, but the decision had been postponed until September 2018.
- The Council refused Mr C’s application for funding, because the three quotes he provided included the addition of a bathroom. The Council therefore asked Mr C to obtain 2 further quotes for the work without the addition of a bathroom.
- Mr C provided 2 quotes. The Council then asked him to obtain a further quote, but he refused as he had now obtained 5 quotes in total.
Complaint to Council
- The Council has a 2 stage complaints process. At stage 1, the relevant service manager will aim to provide a response within 20 days. At stage 2, the complaints manager aims to respond within 20 days. The complaints policy says that if there are any delays in providing a response at either stage, it will inform complainants.
- In January 2019, funding for the extension had still not been agreed so Mr C complained to the Council about the delays. The Council wrote to Mr C and said he would receive a response within 15 working days.
- Mr C contacted the Council to say the 15 days had passed without a response being received. The Council apologised and said a full response would normally be sent within 20 days.
- In March, the Council provided a response. It apologised to Mr C for delays in dealing with his complaint.
- The Council apologised to Mr C for delays in processing his application for funding and said this was caused by a lack of clarity in the processes for such applications.
- The Council said it needed the further quote from Mr C before it could proceed, and understood he was now arranging this. The Council said it hoped to consider Mr C’s application in the near future. The Council also said it was drafting a policy for the funding of such works, to avoid such delays in the future.
- In April 2019, Mr C asked for his complaint to be considered at stage 2 of the Council’s complaints procedure. In May 2019, he received a response.
- The Council upheld Mr C’s complaint. It said that it should have had a policy in place setting out its approach to funding such works. The Council said the lack of such guidance led to uncertainty by decision makers, resulting in the delays Mr C suffered.
- The Council say that these delays led to the family’s living conditions being cramped, and ‘discouraged permanence’ for Z as it discouraged Mr C from applying for a SGO.
- The Council apologised for the frustration caused by the delays and offered to make a payment to Mr C of £500 to reflect the delay, frustration and uncertainty.
- The Council also said a decision should be made on the funding of the extension by 31 July 2019, and the new policy will be issued to staff no later than 30 June.
Events since complaints
- Mr C contacted the Ombudsman on 20 August. Upon making enquiries with the Council, it told the Ombudsman the funding had been agreed on 15 August, and this had been communicated to Mr C on 28 August. The Council say its new policy was finalised in May and has now been distributed to staff.
- The Council met with Mr C in November. The Council said Mr C agreed to commission detailed plans of the work, and the Council agreed to fund the cost of this.
- The Council say they are currently awaiting copies of the plans from Mr C and have arranged a meeting with him in the coming weeks to discuss progress of the works.
- I have considered the events up to the present day. It is possible that there may be further delays and, if Mr C feel these are due to fault by the Council, he will have the opportunity to complain to the Council again. If he remains dissatisfied, he can ask the Ombudsman to investigate.
- Since complaining to the Ombudsman, the Council has approved Mr C’s application for the funding of an extension to his property and has agreed to cover the cost of detailed plans being drawn, which Mr C is arranging. The Council has also arranged a meeting with Mr C to discuss the progress.
- The Council has also finalised its policy on the funding for such works and has distributed it to the relevant staff.
- I am satisfied with the action the Council has taken since responding to Mr C’s complaint.
- In response to Mr C’s complaints, the Council accepted it had delayed approving funding for the extension and this had delayed its progress. It also accepted that this had resulted in cramped conditions for the family and this led to uncertainty for the family as it discouraged Mr C from applying for an SGO for Z. This is fault.
- I will now address the issue of the remedy payment of £500 that the Council offered to make to Mr C.
- The Ombudsman’s remedy guidance says that, where a complainant has been deprived of suitable accommodation our recommendation is likely to be a payment in the range of £150 to £350 a month. We assess each case on its merits and consider the impact the fault had on the complainant and other members of their household.
- Having considered the circumstances in this case I consider that a suitable payment, to remedy the distress Mr C and his family suffered living in overcrowded conditions to be £200 a month for the 18-month period since Mr C’s daughter returned home.
- There were also delays in the Council responding to Mr C’s complaints, taking 2 months to provide a stage 1 response, and it only provided an update when Mr C chassed for a response. This is further fault.
- The Ombudsman’s remedy guidance explains that when a complainant has been to significant time and trouble pursuing their complaint, we recommend payments of between £100 to £300, which should reflect the level of difficulty experience by the complainant.
- Having considered the level of difficulty Mr C went to in raising his complaint, I have decided that a time and trouble payment of £100 is suitable in this case.
- Within 1 month of my final decision, the Council has agreed to:
- Offer to pay Mr C a total of £3600 to remedy the distress he and his family suffered living in overcrowded conditions for the last 18 months (This is £200 a month).
- Offer to pay Mr C an additional £100 to reflect the time and trouble he went to pursuing his complaint with the Council.
- I have concluded my investigation on the basis that there was fault leading to an injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman