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Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council (17 019 004)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 03 May 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr and Mrs G’s complaint that the Council has failed to arrange proper contact with their grandchild. The Ombudsman could not achieve the outcome Mr and Mrs G seek and they could ask a court to consider a child arrangement order to secure contact of the kind they want.

The complaint

  1. The complainants, whom I shall call Mr and Mrs G, complains that the Council has failed to arrange contact sessions with their grandchild for a time which they can attend.

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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’. 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 further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
  • there is another body better placed to consider this complaint.

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

  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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have spoken with Mrs G and considered the Council’s responses to the complaint.
  2. Mr and Mrs G have had an opportunity to comment before I make a final decision.

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What I found

  1. Under the Children and Families Act 2014 grandparents may seek permission to apply to the court for a child arrangement order to set out the kind and amount of contact which they should have with a grandchild. On the whole, grandparents do not have an automatic right to contact.

The complaint

  1. Mr and Mrs G are grandparents to their son’s baby who, with their half-siblings, was taken into care in December.
  2. Mr and Mrs G are allowed to have supervised contact with the baby as is their son. However, while their son has contact twice a week, Mr and Mrs G are not able to attend these sessions because they occur at a time when they are working. They have asked the Council if they can have contact on a Sunday.
  3. The Council says that it can’t arrange contact on a Sunday because it needs to be supervised and the appropriate staff do not work at the weekends. It has advised Mr and Mrs G that, while it can see that this is difficult for them, they should discuss contact arrangements with their son in the first instance as they are primarily arranged for him to have contact with his child.
  4. Mrs G tells me that the child’s other parents are allowed unsupervised access with all the grandchildren on a Sunday. She does not believe that it is fair that she has to be supervised and therefore cannot have weekend contact. She has been told that this is because there are allegations that her son has physically harmed one of the children and that, because she does not believe this is the case, she cannot act properly to protect her grandchild from harm.

Assessment

  1. Ultimately the court will decide who has contact with the child and on what basis. Mr and Mrs G are not party to the proceedings but could seek a child arrangement order.
  2. I recognise that it is not always easy for grandparents to take legal action to secure contact with grandchildren. However, the Ombudsman does not have the power to represent them in this or to ask the Council to vary the contact arrangements. In the first instance, they need to discuss this issue with their son as the Council suggests to see if there is a way forward. An investigation by the Ombudsman would not lead to the outcome Mr and Mrs G seek which is to have unsupervised contact on a weekend.

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Final decision

  1. I have decided that the Ombudsman should not investigate this complaint. This is because an investigation would not achieve the outcome Mr and Mrs G want. They can take legal action if they want to secure better contact with their grandchild.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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