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Staffordshire County Council (21 001 444)

Category : Children's care services > Looked after children

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 20 Jul 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate Miss X’s complaint about the Council’s children services team not assessing her as a carer for her children. We could not achieve the outcome she seeks as the Court decided the children’s care arrangements.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Miss X, says the Council has failed to assess her so that her children can return to her care. She says it has refused to investigate her complaint about this.

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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’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We do not start or continue an investigation if we decide:
    • there is not enough evidence of fault to justify investigating, or
    • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  3. The Courts have said that we cannot investigate a complaint about any action by a council, concerning a matter which is itself out of our jurisdiction. (R (on the application of M) v Commissioner for Local Administration [2006] EHWCC 2847 (Admin))
  4. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by Miss X and the Council, which includes the Court order.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
  3. I considered Miss X’s comments on a draft decision of this decision.

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My assessment

  1. The Court decided in December 2019 that the Council should care for Miss X’s children. It noted some would be in long term foster care and others would remain in residential homes. It set out the contact Miss X should have.
  2. Miss X says the Council started an assessment for her children to come back to her home and live with her. She says the Council put this on hold. She says her children have told her they want to come and live with her. She complained to the Council.
  3. In reply, the Council said it would not investigate her complaint about this as it could not achieve the outcome she seeks of the children returning to her care, given the Court orders.
  4. We could not get the Court orders changed. The orders specify long term foster care and make no allowance for reassessment for the children to return to Miss X’s care.
  5. We would not find fault in the Council’s decision not to investigate Miss X’s complaint about this.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate this complaint. This is because we cannot achieve the outcome she seeks.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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