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Surrey County Council (19 012 589)

Category : Children's care services > Looked after children

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 17 Jan 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Miss X’s complaint the Council breached a Court order for her contact with her child. It is reasonable to expect Miss X to apply to Court.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Miss X, says the Council refused to allow her to have direct contact with her child, Y.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  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 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 we would find fault, or
    • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
    • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Miss X provided with her complaint and the Council’s comments. Miss X had the opportunity to comment on a draft version of this decision.

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What I found

  1. A Court decided in 2013 the Council should care for Miss X’s child, Y. The Court directed Miss X should have direct contact not less than every six weeks. The Council confirmed this has not happened for a few years. Miss X says since September 2016. The Council say Y who is now 14 does not want direct contact with Miss X. It says it involves Miss X in Y’s care reviews and regularly reviews the contact. It says it will do no more than this as it has to consider Y’s wishes.
  2. The Council say it will not investigate Miss X’s complaint as that would not provide the outcome she seeks of direct contact with Y.


  1. We will not investigate a complaint when it is reasonable to expect the complainant to apply to Court. Miss X can apply to Court for breach of the 2013 Care Order. It is likely she can receive some legal aid funding for advice for this and to make the application. As we cannot enforce the court order, it is reasonable to expect Miss X to attempt to apply.
  2. From the information we have, it is unlikely our investigation could achieve more than the involvement she has with the care review meetings

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is reasonable to expect Miss X to apply to court for enforcement of a Care Order.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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