South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council (18 006 845)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 20 Sep 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr J’s complaint about the Council not ensuring a care provider and a school provided him with information about his son, and about it failing to address his complaint. This is because the ICO is better placed to consider complaints about failing to provide information, and the Ombudsman will not consider the way a council handles a complaint if not investigating the underlying matter. The Ombudsman cannot in any event investigate what happens in a school, and Mr J can seek discovery of documents relevant to legal action through the courts if necessary.

The complaint

  1. Mr J complains a care provider the Council commissioned to care for his son, and a maintained school have failed to provide him with information he has requested about his son’s care and education. He also complains the Council has failed to address his 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’.
  2. 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 there is another body better placed to consider this complaint. We normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner (ICO) if they have a complaint about the provision of personal information.

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

  1. We cannot investigate complaints about what happens in schools. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5, paragraph 5(b), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the information Mr J provided with his complaint and given him the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr J, whose son is in care, has asked the care provider commissioned by the Council to give him information about his son’s behaviour, and how this has been managed. He has also asked a school maintained by the Council to provide similar information about his son’s education, and believes the Council has a duty under the Education Act 1996 to respond to his complaint.
  2. The two requests Mr J made for information are effectively subject access requests. The ICO considers complaints about failure to comply with subject access requests. So it is best placed to consider this complaint, and the Ombudsman will not investigate it.
  3. The section of the Education Act 1996 Mr J believes placed on the Council a duty to deal with his complaints only applies to Wales since it was changed in 2012. The Council has no duty to deal with complaints about maintained schools. If Mr J is unhappy with the school’s actions he can complaint to the school’s governing body, and then either to the ICO or to the Secretary of State, who can consider how the school handles his complaint. In neither case is there scope for the Ombudsman to consider a complaint about what happens in a school.
  4. Mr J says the information he has asked for is required in connection with court proceedings. It is open to Mr J to ask the court to require the school and the care provider to provide the information. The court may do so if it is satisfied the information is relevant to any application before it.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because the ICO is better placed to consider complaints about failing to provide information, and the Ombudsman will not consider the way a council handles a complaint if not investigating the underlying matter. The Ombudsman cannot in any event investigate what happens in a school, and Mr J can seek discovery of documents relevant to legal action through the courts if necessary.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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