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Worcestershire County Council (21 017 505)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 12 Apr 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We cannot investigate Mr X’s complaints about the accuracy of documents used in Court proceedings. We should not investigate complaint procedure delays, as it is not appropriate to recommend any remedy.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, says the Council provided an inaccurate report and genogram to a Court. He also says it unreasonably delayed in replying to his complaint.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We do not start or continue an investigation if we decide there is not enough evidence of fault to justify investigating. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  2. We cannot investigate a complaint about the start of court action or what happened in court. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5A, paragraph 1/3, as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by Mr X and the Council.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
  3. Mr X had an opportunity to comment on a draft version of this 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.
  5. We are unlikely to reinvestigate the same events which have been investigated under this procedure unless it was flawed by significant process faults. This is because it has independent oversight at stage two and stage three.
  6. We would not normally investigate the same issues investigated within this procedure unless it was procedurally flawed. This is because of the independent oversight at stage two and three.

Analysis

  1. Mr X says the Council’s children services team provided a Court with a report which had inaccurate information in it about broken bones. He also says it provided a Court with an inaccurate genogram.
  2. We cannot investigate the accuracy of documents the Council provides to a Court as set out in paragraph three.
  3. Mr X says the Council delayed in processing his complaint through the statutory scheme. Mr X had complained by the beginning of May 2021 and the stage three concluded in mid March 2022.
  4. The Council has provided reasons for the delay including:
    • Mr X changed his complaint statement delaying the start of the stage two until mid June.
    • Mr X wanted a face to face stage three and the Council had difficulties finding members in November to January to sit face to face with the increase in COVID-19 cases.
    • The first arranged stage three panel was cancelled as a member tested positive for COVID-19 and Mr X would not agree to a two member panel.
    • The stage three was eventually held on line.
  5. On balance, this is not a case, considering all the factors, which we would recommend any remedy for the complaint’s delay.

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Final decision

  1. We will not and cannot investigate this complaint. This is because we cannot investigate documents used in Court proceedings and a remedy is not appropriate for the complaints procedure delays.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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