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Peterborough City Council (21 005 813)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 23 Aug 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council is at fault for delaying considering complaints at stage two of the children’s statutory complaints procedure. The Council has agreed to complete its stage two investigation without further delay and will offer to make a payment to the complainant to remedy the time and trouble its delay has caused her.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I will call Miss C, complains about the lack of support the Council has provided her son who is a child in need due to his disability.

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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 Miss C 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 an investigator and an independent person who is responsible for overseeing the investigation. Councils have up to 13 weeks to complete stage two of the process from the date of request.
  4. If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the stage two investigation, they can ask for a stage three review by an independent panel. The Council must hold the panel within 30 days of the date of request, and then issue a final response within 20 days of the panel hearing.

What happened

  1. The Council received a complaint from Miss C in November 2020. She complained about the lack of support the Council had provided for her son who is a child in need. The Council responded to Miss C’s complaint within the statutory timescales.
  2. Miss C asked for her complaint to be escalated to stage two of the process, but because there was an appeal process the Council said it would need to wait for that that to be completed first.
  3. Miss C’s appeal was successful, and it was agreed that support for her son would be put in place. However, in March 2021 Miss C contacted the Council again to complaint that the support had still not been put in place.
  4. The Council arranged for a conciliation meeting to be held with Miss C. The meeting took place in May however Miss C remained dissatisfied and continued to contact the Council. In July, the Council asked her to confirm if she wanted her complaint to be progressed to stage two which she said she did. Miss C has not yet received a response at stage two of the process and therefore complained to the Ombudsman.

Analysis

  1. The Council should have completed a stage two investigation into Miss X’s complaints within three months of receiving her request. The Council’s decision to suspend the stage two investigation pending Miss C’s appeal was one it was entitled to make and therefore it is unlikely we would find fault with this approach.
  2. Whilst councils can build in extra processes such as conciliation meetings to try to resolve complaints, these should not delay the process. Therefore, the Council should have progressed Miss C’s complaint to stage two of the process when she contacted it in late March, after the appeal process had been completed. It did not and this is fault.
  3. Mrs C has not received answers to the questions she raised about the Council’s decisions and has been denied the opportunity for independent oversight at stage two of the statutory complaints procedure. She has also been caused frustration by the delay.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of the date of this decision, the Council has agreed to:
    • Complete its stage two investigation and write to Miss C to inform her of the outcome, ensuring it provides her with appropriate information about her rights under the process.
    • Make a payment to Miss C of £100 to remedy the time and trouble she has gone to in pursuing her complaint, and to reflect the Council’s delay in dealing with them.

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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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