The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council is at fault for delaying consideration of this complaint under the children’s statutory complaints procedure. The Council has agreed to make a payment to the complainant for the time and trouble its delay has caused.
- The complainant, who I will call Mr X, complains about matters relating to the care of a child who was previously in his care. Mr X complained to the Ombudsman that the Council has delayed issuing a response to his complaint at stage two of the statutory complaints procedure.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- Under our information sharing agreement, we will share the final decision with the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted).
How I considered this complaint
- I considered information provided by the complainant and the Council.
- I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
The statutory complaints procedure
- 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.
- The first stage of the procedure is local resolution. Councils have up to 20 working days to respond.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mr X complained to the Council which the Council considered under the statutory complaints procedure. In December 2021, the Council and Mr X agreed a stage two statement of complaint. The Investigating Officer and Independent Person completed their reports in March and April. However, comments have yet to be receive from the Independent Reviewing Officer and therefore a final response has not yet been sent to Mr X.
- The Council should have issued its stage two response by the mid-March. Its failure to do so is fault which has caused Mr X a delay in receiving answers to questions that he raised and the delay has caused him frustration.
- The Council has agreed that within one month of the date of my final decision, it will:
- Complete the stage two complaints procedure by writing to Mr X and informing him of the outcome of its investigation, providing him with appropriate information about his rights under the procedure.
- Offer to make a payment of £150 to Mr X to remedy the time and trouble he has gone to pursuing hi complaint and to reflect the delay in the Council dealing with it.
- We uphold this complaint with a finding of fault causing an injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman