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Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council (22 002 113)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 19 Jun 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint about the Council’s involvement with her family. This is because the complaint is late and there are no good reasons it could not have been brought to us sooner. Even if we were to investigate, it is unlikely we could now add anything to the Council’s response.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mrs X, complained about the Council’s involvement with her family. Mrs X’s great nephew and two great nieces were taken into care in 2017. Mrs X complained the Council did not give her the opportunity to care for the children. Mrs X’s great nephew was adopted in January 2018.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  2. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  3. The Ombudsman investigates 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 may decide not to continue with an investigation if we decide:
  • we could not add to any previous investigation by the organisation, or
  • further investigation would not lead to a different outcome, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))

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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. I gave the complainant the opportunity to comment on a draft statement and considered their comments.

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My assessment

  1. The issues at the heart of Mrs X’s complaint go back to October 2017 – almost five years ago. While it is clear there has been ongoing contact between Mrs X and the Council, we expect people to complain to us within twelve months of them becoming aware of a problem. We look at each complaint individually, and on its merits, considering the circumstances of each case. But we do not exercise discretion to accept a late complaint unless there are good reasons to do so. I do not consider that to be the case here. I see no reason why Mrs X could not have complained to the Ombudsman much earlier and so we will not start an investigation.
  2. Also, in its responses to Mrs X, the Council has apologised for a lack of communication and that Mrs X was “denied the opportunity” to be identified as a possible carer. But we could never say if Mrs X would have been chosen to care for her relatives. The Council has also said it will review the decision about direct contact between Mrs X and the children. Indirect contact has been in place since 2019 and the Council will look to progress letterbox contact with one of the children.
  3. Given the above and the time which has now elapsed, it is difficult to see what more we could achieve by investigating.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint. This is because the complaint is late and it is difficult to see what more we could now achieve.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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