Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 04 Jul 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr W complained the Council failed to accept an agreement to support him through three years of undergraduate study. The Council was not at fault for saying the agreement it had with Mr W was for him to study a Higher National Diploma rather than a Batchelor of Science degree. But there was no evidence it considered whether supporting Mr W for the final year of study was in Mr W’s best interests. It is asked to do that now.
- The complainant, Mr W, said the Council failed to provide support to him for his undergraduate studies although it had previously agreed to do so. He asked the Ombudsman to consider whether the Council was wrong in failing to offer support him for the third year of study, which would enable him to achieve a Batchelor of Science (BSc) degree.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
- When considering complaints, if there is a conflict of evidence, we make findings based on the balance of probabilities. This means that we will weigh up the available relevant evidence and base our findings on what we think was more likely to have happened.
- The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman will share this decision with the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) under our information sharing agreement.
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I spoke to Mr W’s advocate and made enquiries of the Council and assessed its response. I sent Mr W and the Council a copy of my draft decision and took their comments into account before issuing a decision.
What I found
- The Child Law Advice website says, in accordance with the relevant legislation, ‘If, at the age of 21, the young person (who has left care) is still being helped by the responsible (Council) with education or training, then they remain a ‘former relevant child’ until a maximum age of 25. Their programme of education or training will be set out within their Pathway Plan’.
- Mr W, who is a care leaver, wished to study an undergraduate Batchelor of Science (BSc) degree.
- Mr W received an offer to study a three-year degree at University F in Computing in May 2017 at the age of 24.
- The Council’s agreement to fund this degree is contained in an email of 4 May 2017. This says: “We will provide the grant for 3 years at £5,500 per year only if:
- All 3 years are undertaken consecutively with no resits. (any resits would have to be done concurrently with the degree course and there will be no additional funding provided for this).
- You or the university do not change the course that you are on.
- We will review at the end of every term and only if you have attended the course and passed all modules/ exams will we fund the next terms payment.
- You complete a financial agreement with your worker to this effect and you sign to allow us access to your attendance and progress on a termly basis. The financial agreement will lay all of this out clearly.
- You meet regularly with your allocated leaving care worker and you complete your pathway plan and reviews.
- The grant must be used to covers the vacation periods first and foremost.”
- For the Council to consider whether funding a third year of study, to enable Mr W to complete his goal of a BSc degree, is in his best interests and is in accordance with his needs. It should tell me what action it will take within three months of the date of this decision.
- There is evidence of fault leading to injustice for Mr W and the Council has agreed an action to address that fault.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman