Privacy settings

LGO logogram

Review your privacy settings

Required cookies

These cookies enable the website to function properly. You can only disable these by changing your browser preferences, but this will affect how the website performs.

View required cookies

Analytical cookies

Google Analytics cookies help us improve the performance of the website by understanding how visitors use the site.
We recommend you set these 'ON'.

View analytical cookies

In using Google Analytics, we do not collect or store personal information that could identify you (for example your name or address). We do not allow Google to use or share our analytics data. Google has developed a tool to help you opt out of Google Analytics cookies.

Newcastle upon Tyne City Council (21 000 076)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 06 Apr 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr B complained the Council did not carry out the statutory children’s complaint procedure correctly. Mr B said this caused him emotional distress. We found fault with the Council for delays in its complaint procedure. This caused Mr B injustice. The Council will make a financial payment to remedy this injustice.

The complaint

  1. Mr B complained the Council did not carry out the statutory children’s complaint procedure correctly. He said:
    • the Council delayed each stage of the complaint investigation.
    • the investigating officer ignored evidence and did not speak to everyone involved.
    • the stage three panel refused to discuss his evidence or answer his questions.
  2. He also complained:
    • Council staff were guilty of multiple counts of gross negligence.
    • The Council falsified information and slandered him.
  3. Mr B said this caused him emotional distress.

What I investigated

  1. When a Council has considered a complaint using the statutory complaints procedure, we generally would not reinvestigate the substantive issues. The statutory procedure is designed to provide significant independence and detailed analysis of the concerns raised. This means reinvestigation is neither necessary nor warranted unless there are serious and fundamental flaws in the way the Council investigated the complaint. Therefore, as I did not find serious or fundamental flaws in the Council’s statutory children’s complaint procedure, I did not investigate the substantive matters that led to Mr B’s complaint.
  2. In addition, I did not investigate the following matters:
    • Mr B’s complaint the Council falsified information about him. This is a matter for the Information Commissioner's Office.
    • Mr B’s complaint the Council slandered him. Slander is a form of defamation of character. This is a legal matter and for the courts to consider.
    • Mr B’s complaint about gross negligence of individual staff. These are personnel issues. Mr B has complained to Social Work England. This is the appropriate body to consider complaints about individual social work practice.

Back to top

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. 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)
  3. The Information Commissioner's Office considers complaints about freedom of information. Its decision notices may be appealed to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights). So where we receive complaints about freedom of information, we normally consider it reasonable to expect the person to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner.
  4. The Ombudsman cannot investigate whether social workers are meeting their professional standards of conduct. Complaints of this nature should be referred to the social workers’ professional body, Social Work England.
  5. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)
  6. 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)
  7. Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.

Back to top

How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered:
    • Mr B’s complaint and the information he provided;
    • documents supplied by the Council; and
    • relevant legislation and guidelines.
  2. Mr B and the Council commented on a draft decision. I considered their comments before making my final decision.

Back to top

What I found

Legislation and guidance

  1. The handling and consideration of complaints under the Children Act 1989 consists of three stages.
  2. At Stage one staff at point of service delivery try to resolve the complaint.
  3. At Stage two an investigating officer (IO) and an independent person (IP) investigate the complaint. The IO is responsible for the investigation and the IP ensures the process is open, transparent, and fair.
  4. The IO writes a stage two report which includes:
    • details of findings, conclusions and outcomes are against each point of complaint (i.e. “upheld” or “not upheld”); and
    • recommendations on how to remedy any injustice to the complainant as appropriate.
  5. Once the IO has finished the report, a senior manager should act as Adjudicating Officer (AO) and consider the complaints, the IO’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations, any report from the IP, and the complainant’s desired outcomes. The AO will send the complainant a response to the reports. In the AO’s response, the complainant should be informed of their right to approach the Ombudsman at any time (Department for Education and Skills 2006 Getting the best from complaints: Social Care Complaints and Representations for Children, Young People and Others).
  6. At Stage three the complaint is considered by a review panel. The Panel must consist of three independent people (The Children Act 1989 Representations Procedure (England) Regulations 2006 19(2)).
  7. Review Panels are designed to:
    • listen to all parties;
    • consider the adequacy of the stage two investigation;
    • obtain any further information and advice that may help resolve the complaint to all parties’ satisfaction;
    • focus on achieving resolution for the complainant by addressing his clearly defined complaints and desired outcomes;
    • reach findings on each of the complaints being reviewed;
    • make recommendations that provide practical remedies and creative solutions to complex situations;
    • support local solutions where the opportunity for resolution between the complainant and the council exists;
    • to identify any consequent injustice to the complainant where complaints are upheld, and to recommend appropriate redress. These may include financial compensation or other action within a specified framework to promote resolution; and
    • recommend any service improvements for action by the authority (Department for Education and Skills 2006 Getting the best from complaints: Social Care Complaints and Representations for Children, Young People and Others).
  8. Following the panel, the members write a report containing a brief summary of the representations and their recommendations for resolution of the issues (The Children Act 1989 Representations Procedure (England) Regulations 2006 19(2) and 20(1)).
  9. The council must send its response to the panel’s recommendations to the complainant within 15 days of receiving the panel’s report. The response should be developed by the relevant Director / Director of Children’s Services and set out how the council will respond to the recommendations and what action the council will take. (Department for Education and Skills 2006 Getting the best from complaints: Social Care Complaints and Representations for Children, Young People and Others).
  10. The timescales in working days for the procedure are:
    • 25 days at stage two (with maximum extension to 65 days);
    • 20 days for the complainant to request a Review Panel;
    • 30 days to meet and hold the Review Panel at stage three;
    • 5 days for the Panel to issue its findings; and
    • 15 days for the council to respond to the findings (Department for Education and Skills 2006 Getting the best from complaints: Social Care Complaints and Representations for Children, Young People and Others).
  11. In a limited number of cases, councils can refer the complaint to Ombudsman after stage two. Stage two must have delivered:
    • a robust report;
    • a complete adjudication;
    • an outcome where all complaints have been upheld (or all significant complaints about service delivery in respect of the qualifying individual); and,
    • the council has a clear action plan for delivery; and
    • the council agrees to meet the majority, or all of the desired outcomes presented by the complainant regarding social services functions.
  12. Otherwise, the complainant retains the right to proceed to a Review Panel (Department for Education and Skills 2006 Getting the best from complaints: Social Care Complaints and Representations for Children, Young People and Others, Annex 3).

What happened

  1. Mr B complained to the Council about its actions during a child protection investigation in August 2020. The Council used its discretion to consider his complaint at stage two of the statutory complaint procedure without it going through stage one.
  2. In October 2020, the Council assigned the investigation to an IO and IP. The IO and IP had an online meeting with Mr B. After the meeting, the IO sent Mr B a draft statement of complaint. Mr B agreed a statement of complaint in November 2020.
  3. In February 2021 the IO sent Mr B a draft report. The IO and IP held a conference call with Mr B in February 2021 to discuss the report. Mr B was not happy with the IO’s findings.
  4. The IO and IP submitted their final reports in March 2021. The IO:
    • upheld one complaint;
    • partially upheld one complaint;
    • found three complaints unsubstantiated; and
    • did not uphold 28 complaints.
  5. The IO considered Mr B’s desired outcomes and recommended the Council:
    • apologise to Mr B for its delay sending him minutes of a child protection conference;
    • consider making an early referral to the Ombudsman if Mr B asked for a stage three investigation; and
    • consider whether Mr B was a suitable representative for his child if he made further complaints to the Council.
  6. The IP confirmed the IO had carried out the investigation professionally, fairly, and impartially. The IP agreed with the IO’s findings apart from one. The IP believed complaint six should be upheld. Complaint six was that the Council failed to invite the relevant professionals to the initial child protection conference.
  7. The Council’s adjudicating officer sent Mr B a letter in March 2021. The officer accepted the IO’s findings except for complaint six, which they partially upheld. The Council said it should have considered Mr B’s request for professionals from two organisations to attend the conference more robustly. Of the 33 areas of complaint, the Council upheld two complaints and partially upheld one. Three complaints were not proven or unsubstantiated. The Council apologised for the upheld and partially upheld complaints. It told Mr B it accepted the IO’s recommendations.
  8. Mr B asked the Council to consider his complaint at stage three. In April 2021, the Council consulted with the Ombudsman. It told Mr B it was happy for him to make an early referral to the Ombudsman. It said this was because:
    • he said he was going to take his complaint to the Ombudsman and undertaking a stage three investigation would delay this;
    • the language and tone of some of his emails to the IO were inappropriate;
    • he was verbally abusive towards the IO and it was concerned he might be verbally abusive at the stage three panel;
    • the IO recommended an early referral to the Ombudsman;
    • it was unlikely the 27 complaints not upheld would be overturned at a stage three panel; and
    • he told the Council he was going to lobby the government, contact the media, set up online petitions and share information on social media about his complaint and it would not be in his best interest to prolong the complaint procedure.
  9. Mr B brought his complaint to us in March 2021. In May 2021, we told the Council the complaint did not meet the criteria for an early referral to us and it needed to complete stage three of the statutory complaint procedure.
  10. Before the stage three panel, the Council sent attendees:
    • Mr B’s statement of complaint.
    • the IO and IP reports.
    • Mr B’s feedback on the IO’s findings.
    • the adjudicator’s stage two response.
    • Mr B’s request for a stage three panel.
    • information provided by Mr B about the Council’s actions.
  11. The stage three panel was held online in October 2021. Mr B attended with his mother as support.
  12. The panel discussed each complaint not upheld at stage 2. Mr B had the opportunity to explain why he felt they should be upheld. The stage three panel changed 13 of Mr B’s complaints from not upheld to unsubstantiated or unable to prove or disprove. It changed two findings from not upheld to upheld and two from not upheld to partially upheld. The panel expressed disappointment that the IO did not consider minutes of a meeting Mr B provided during the investigation.
  13. The panel’s report show it considered Mr B’s desired outcomes and decided it was not within their remit to consider individual practitioner’s fitness to practice or to recommend a financial remedy. It found the Council acted on the recommendations made at stage two and made six further recommendations:
    • The Council should write to a complainant when it escalates a complaint to stage two to explain why.
    • The Council should allow Mr B to add a document with his comments to the case file.
    • The Council should contact the police and ask for documents.
    • The Council should review its child protection procedures to ensure social workers are robust in gathering relevant information from partner safeguarding agencies where there has been known involvement.
    • The Council should remind social workers to consult with parents/ carers who hold parental responsibility when deciding the ethnicity of a child.
    • The Council should add a subsection to its case transfer form where it can record the reason it did not allow a parent/ carer with parental responsibility to attend a conference meeting.
  14. The Council sent its stage three adjudication letter in October 2021. The Council accepted the findings of the stage three panel. It apologised for the complaints that were upheld or partially upheld. The Council considered Mr B’s desired outcomes and decided not to award him compensation because it was not found to be at significant fault and was not responsible for his legal costs. It told him if he had concerns about individual social workers’ practice, he could report them to Social Work England. The Council accepted the panel’s recommendations and explained the actions it had taken.

Council response to the Ombudsman

  1. The stage three panel said it considered Mr B’s compensation request, but this was not accurately recorded in the minutes of the meeting. It apologised for this.

Analysis

  1. Mr B raised concerns about the stage two IO report. The stage three panel addressed these concerns. The stage three panel considered each complaint not upheld at stage two. The panel listened to Mr B’s representations for each complaint and considered his desired outcomes, considered the adequacy of the stage two investigation, and reached a finding for each complaint. It made suitable recommendations. However, it did not record that it considered Mr B’s request for compensation; this was fault. This fault did not cause Mr B significant injustice because the Council responded to his request in its stage three adjudication. The Council decided not to award Mr B compensation and explained its reasons. This was a decision the Council was entitled to make. There was no fault in how it made its decision, and I cannot comment on the merits of a decision made without fault.
  2. There were delays in the Council’s complaint investigation. Stage two should have taken a maximum 65 days; it took over seven months from when Mr B contacted the Council with his complaint to the Council sending its stage two adjudication. Stage three should have taken a maximum 70 days; it took almost seven months. Although for two of these, the complaint was being considered by the Ombudsman. The Council was at fault for the delay in the complaint investigation. Part of this delay was caused by the Council referring Mr B to the Ombudsman after stage two. Although, I appreciate the reasons the Council gave for doing so, the case did not meet the criteria for early referral. The Council should have started the stage three investigation when Mr B first asked. The Council’s delays caused Mr B frustration.
  3. When a Council has considered a complaint using the statutory complaints procedure, we generally would not reinvestigate the substantive issues. The statutory procedure is designed to provide significant independence and detailed analysis of the concerns raised. This means reinvestigation is neither necessary nor warranted unless there are serious and fundamental flaws in the way the Council investigated the complaint.
  4. I did not find any serious or fundamental flaws in the way the Council considered Mr B’s complaint. Mr B’s concerns about the stage two investigation were thoroughly considered by the stage three panel. Although the delays caused Mr B frustration, they did not impact on the decision making of those involved in the complaint procedure. As I did not find any serious or fundamental flaws with the Council’s complaint investigation, I did not reinvestigate the substantive matters.

Back to top

Agreed action

  1. Within one month of the final decision, the Council will:
    • Pay Mr B £200 for the frustration caused by the Council’s delays.
    • Remind those involved in statutory children’s complaint investigations and investigating officers of the criteria for early referral to the Ombudsman.
    • Remind those involved in statutory children’s complaint investigations the stage three panel can recommend financial compensation. Remind panels to record these discussions.
  2. The Council should provide the Ombudsman with evidence it has completed these actions.

Back to top

Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and found fault with the Council. Mr B was caused an injustice by the actions of the Council. The Council agreed to take action to remedy that injustice.

Back to top

Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. I did not investigate Mr B’s complaint the Council falsified information about him. This is a matter for the Information Commissioner's Office.
  2. I did not investigate Mr B’s complaint the Council slandered him. Slander is a form of defamation of character. This is a legal matter and for the courts to consider.
  3. I did not investigate Mr B’s complaint about the gross negligence of individual staff. These are personnel issues. Mr B has complained to Social Work England. This is the appropriate body to consider complaints about individual social work practice.

Back to top

Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

Print this page