Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 26 Mar 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about the conduct of a social worker and the Council’s responses to his complaint. This is because Mr X’s complaint is late, the injustice is not significant enough, and it is unlikely we could now carry out a meaningful investigation. We will not investigate a council’s complaint handling if we are not going to investigate the matter which led to the original complaint.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, complains about the conduct of a social worker in the summer of 2018. Mr X is also unhappy with how the Council has dealt with his complaints.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
- We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
- 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:
- the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered Mr X’s complaint to the Ombudsman and the information he provided. I also gave Mr X the opportunity to comment on a draft statement before issuing a final decision on his complaint.
What I found
- Mr X complains about the conduct of a social worker in the summer of 2018. Mr X says the social worker was “rude, racist, xenophobic and discriminatory”. Mr X says he has been pursuing his complaint with the Council but has not received a satisfactory response.
- The Ombudsman normally expects people to complain to us within twelve months of them becoming aware of a problem. We look at each complaint individually, and on its merits, considering the circumstances of each case. But we do not exercise discretion to accept a late complaint unless there are good reasons to do so. I understand that Mr X has had problems with his health, but the Ombudsman will not exercise its discretion to consider his late complaint. In reaching this decision I have taken into account the points I make below.
- It is clear Mr X is upset about the social worker’s actions. But it would be very difficult for us to now establish exactly what was said, when, and in what context. I do not therefore believe we could reach a safe conclusion about what happened. In such circumstances an investigation is not appropriate. I am also not persuaded the injustice to Mr X is serious enough to warrant the cost of an investigation.
- Mr X is also unhappy with how the Council has dealt with his complaints. But we will not look at a council’s complaint handling if we are not going to look at the issue which led to the original complaint. This applies here and so we will not investigate.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint. This is because the complaint is late, the injustice is not significant enough, and we could not now carry out a meaningful investigation. We will not investigate complaint handling as a standalone issue.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman