London Borough of Merton (21 010 242)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 20 Dec 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We uphold Mrs X’s complaint, as the Council delayed considering a complaint at stage one and two of the children’s statutory complaints’ procedure. The Council has agreed to complete its stage two without further delay and make a payment for the delay so far.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I will call Mrs X, complains about adoption support failures and related matters such as data protections issues.

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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 Mrs X and the Council.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
  3. Mrs X has had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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My assessment

The statutory complaints 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. Mrs X made her initial complaint in early April 2021. The Council replied at stage one of the Children Act 1989 statutory complaints procedure in early June 2021. Mrs X requested it be escalated in/ around a week later to stage two.
  2. Mrs X complained to us in early October 2021. The stage two should have been completed by mid September 2021 at the latest and the stage one was also delayed beyond the time limits.
  3. An investigation is likely to conclude the Council’s failure to comply with the statutory complaints’ scheme is fault which has caused Mrs X some time and trouble.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed within two months of the date of my final decision to:
    • Complete a stage two investigation and write to Mrs X to inform her of the outcome, ensuring it provides her with appropriate information about her rights under the process.
    • Pay her for £100 to reflect the delays in the complaints’ process so far.

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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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