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Hampshire County Council (21 004 346)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 26 Aug 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council is at fault for delaying considering a complaint at stage two of the children’s statutory complaints procedure. The Council has agreed to start its stage two investigation within two months and will offer to make a payment to the complainant to remedy the time and trouble its delay has caused him.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I will call Mr C, complains about the actions about the Council’s children’s services. Mr C has asked the Council to investigate his complaint at stage two of the Children Act statutory complaints procedure but has not received a response.

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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’. 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. Under our information sharing agreement, we will share the final decision with the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted).

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by the complainant and the Council.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
  3. The complainant now has an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I will consider their comments before making a final decision.

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My assessment

The statutory complains procedure

  1. The law sets out a three-stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. The accompanying statutory guidance, Getting the Best from Complaints, explains councils’ responsibilities in more detail.
  2. The first stage of the procedure is local resolution. Councils have up to 20 working days to respond.
  3. If a complainant is not happy with a council’s stage one response, they can ask that it is considered at stage two. At this stage of the procedure, councils appoint

What happened

  1. Mr C complained to the Council about the involvement of its children’s services with his family.
  2. The Council considered Mr C’s complaint under stage one of the statutory complains procedure. Mr C was dissatisfied with its response, so in early-October he asked the Council to progress his complaint to stage two of the procedure.
  3. The Council has explained that a lack of Investigating Officers and Independent Persons has caused a delay in progressing Mr C’s complaint, and that this has been made more challenging during the summer holidays. However, it has sourced more resources and anticipates that it will be able to allocate Mr C’s complaint by the end of October.

Analysis

  1. The Council should have completed a stage two investigation a maximum of 13 weeks after Mr C requested it. It did not and this is fault. Mr C has not received answers to the questions he has raised and has been denied the opportunity for independent oversight at stage two of the statutory complaints procedure. He has also been caused frustration by the delay.

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Agreed action

  1. Within two months of the date of this decision, the Council has agreed to:
    • Start its stage two investigation by allocating Mr C’s complaint to an Investigating Officer and Independent Person and write to Mr C to inform him of the next steps
    • Make a payment to Mr C of £300 to remedy the time and trouble he has gone to in pursuing his complaint, and to reflect the Council’s delay in dealing with his complaint

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Final decision

  1. I uphold this complaint with a finding of fault causing an injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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