Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 22 Mar 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about a Council officer making a safeguarding referral. There is not enough evidence of fault to warrant investigation.
- Mr X said a Council officer wrongly reported a safeguarding matter without asking questions first. He said he and his partner were put under severe stress until the Council decided there was no reason for concern.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I read Mr X’s complaint and spoke to him on the telephone. I gave him an opportunity to comment on a draft decision.
What I found
- A Council officer was working with Mr X and his partner when they had a baby. She made a safeguarding referral and the Council considered it, deciding there was no reason for any further action.
- The Council has safeguarding responsibility for children under 18. The Children Act 1989 says the threshold for making a safeguarding referral is when a person has reason to suspect a child is at risk of significant harm. It is not the person’s role to investigate the matter; the suspicion is enough. That is a low threshold, based on the premise that the need to protect children outweighs the likelihood that innocent persons will have their actions investigated. While the age of consent is 16, and many relationships with older partners are of no concern, others can involve exploitation of a vulnerable child. Where a partner is significantly older, there can be concern. Research has suggested the trigger point for concern is often when the age gap is four to six years. The Council’s policy regards the trigger point for concern to be five years.
- Mr X’s partner was under 18. Mr X was over 30. I understand that he found the days before the Council confirmed it had no further concerns distressing and felt he was being wrongly accused of grooming. But there was no fault in the Council officer finding the age gap to be of concern and making the safeguarding referral without attempting to investigate first.
- We will not investigate this complaint. This is because there is insufficient evidence of fault to warrant investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman