London Borough of Merton (22 000 100)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 13 Apr 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council was at fault when it failed to complete stage 2 of the statutory children’s complaints procedures within the timescales agreed in a previous Ombudsman investigation. It has agreed to pay Mrs X £100 to reflect the injustice these further delays caused her.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X complained the Council failed to complete a stage 2 investigation under the statutory children’s complaints procedures within the timescales agreed with the Ombudsman.
  2. As a result, Mrs X says she has been caused frustration and unnecessary time and trouble in coming to the Ombudsman.

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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. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
  3. Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered our previous decision on Mrs X’s complaint and the Council’s reasons for the delay.
  2. I wrote to Mrs X and the Council with my draft decision and considered their comments before I made my final decision.

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What I found

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. Following the stage 2 investigation, a Council officer will ‘adjudicate’ on the stage 2. This means they will say whether they agree with them and any recommendations that have been made.
  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 to the Council 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 around a week later to stage two.
  2. Mrs X first complained to us in early October 2021. The Council should have completed stage two by mid-September 2021 at the latest and the stage one was also delayed beyond the time limits.
  3. The Council told us it would complete the stage 2 investigation by 20 February 2022.
  4. Mrs X complained to us in mid-March to say the Council had not sent her a copy of the stage 2 investigation report.
  5. The Council informed us it had completed the investigation but there were delays in appointing an adjudicating officer.
  6. It issued the report and adjudication letter to Mrs X on 8 April. This was around seven weeks longer than agreed.

My findings

  1. The Council delayed by seven weeks to complete stage 2 of the statutory children’s complaints procedures. This is fault which caused Mrs X frustration and unnecessary time and trouble.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of the date of the final decision, the Council has agreed to pay Mrs X £100 to reflect the injustice she was caused by the delays in the complaints process.

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Final decision

  1. There was fault leading to injustice. The Council has agreed to my recommendations. Therefore, I have completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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