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Hampshire County Council (21 016 617)

Category : Children's care services > Looked after children

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 06 Apr 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council was at fault in delaying consideration of Miss B’s complaint at Stage 2 of the statutory procedure for children’s services complaints. The Council has agreed to begin Stage 2 and to offer to make a payment to Miss B.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I will refer to as Miss B, says the Council has delayed its investigation under the statutory procedure for children's services complaints.

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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’. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. Under our information sharing agreement, we will share the final decision with the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted).

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by the complainant and the Council.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
  3. The complainant had the opportunity to comment on a draft of my decision.

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My assessment

The statutory complaints procedure

  1. The law sets out a three-stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children's social care services. The accompanying statutory guidance, Getting the Best from Complaints, explains councils' responsibilities in more detail.
  2. The first stage of the procedure is local resolution. Councils have up to 20 working days to respond.
  3. If a complainant is not happy with a council's Stage 1 response, they can ask that it is considered at Stage 2. At this stage of the procedure, councils appoint an investigator and an independent person who is responsible for overseeing the investigation. Councils have up to 13 weeks to complete Stage 2 of the process.
  4. If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the Stage 2 investigation, they can ask for a Stage 3 review by an independent panel. The Council must hold the panel within 30 days, and then issue a final response within 20 days of the panel hearing.

What happened

  1. Miss B complained to the Council about what she regards as fault in how it has engaged with her and her family. The Council has considered the complaint under the statutory procedure for complaints about children’s services.
  2. Miss B asked for her complaint to be escalated to Stage 2 of the procedure in September 2021. The complaint is still awaiting the appointment of an Investigating Officer.

Analysis

  1. The Council should have completed a Stage 2 investigation a maximum of 13 weeks after Miss B requested it. It did not and this is fault. Resolution of Miss B’s complaint has been delayed and she has also been put to the time and trouble of contacting the Ombudsman.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed that, within one month of our final decision, it will:
    • Appoint an Investigating Officer and initiate Stage 2, providing Miss B with appropriate information about her rights under the process.
    • Offer to make a payment to Miss B of £200 to reflect the delay in initiating Stage 2 and the uncertainty this has caused.

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Final decision

  1. I uphold this complaint with a finding of fault causing injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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