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London Borough of Sutton (21 018 463)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 02 May 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council is at fault for not progressing this complaint to stage three of the children’s statutory complaints procedure. The Council has now agreed to arrange a stage three panel.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I will call Miss X, complains about the actions of the Council’s children’s services. Miss X is dissatisfied with the Council’s response at stage two of the statutory complaints procedure.

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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 has had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I have considered their comments before making a final 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. The criteria for making an early referral to us is clearly set out in the statutory guidance. The guidance says the Council must have completed a thorough and robust stage 2 investigation and upheld all or most of the substantial points of complaint.

What happened

  1. Miss X raised her complaint with the Council which it considered under the statutory procedure, issuing a stage two response. Of the six complaints Miss X raised, two were partially upheld and four were not upheld.
  2. The Council offered to make a payment to Miss X to remedy the injustice that its identified fault had caused her. However, Miss X was dissatisfied with the Council’s response. The Council therefore advised her that she could submit a claim to her insurers, or ask the Ombudsman to investigate.

Analysis

  1. Because all or most of Miss X’s complaints were not upheld at stage two, this case does not meet the conditions required for us to accept an early referral. Therefore, the Council should have progressed Miss X’s complaint to stage three of the statutory complaints procedure. Its failure to do so is fault.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed that it will arrange a stage three panel within one month of the date of my final decision.

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Final decision

  1. We uphold this complaint with a finding of fault.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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