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Devon County Council (21 005 587)

Category : Education > Special educational needs

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 03 Apr 2022

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 issue its stage two response and make a payment to the complainant for the time and trouble its delay has caused.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I will call Ms X, complains about how the Council’s children’s services dealt with matters relating to her and her family but has not yet received a final response to her complaint.

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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.

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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.

What happened

  1. Ms X raised her complaint with the Council which it considered under the statutory procedure, issuing a stage one response. Dissatisfied with the Council’s response, Ms X asked for her complaint to be progressed to stage two in July, however due to an oversight the request was not actioned until November. The Council has said it expects to issue its stage two response by 1 April.

Analysis

  1. The Council should have completed a stage two investigation into Ms X’s complaint within 13 weeks. It did not and this is fault. Ms X has not received answers to questions she raised and has been caused frustration by the delay.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of the date of my final decision, the Council has agreed to:
    • Issue its stage two response to Ms X; and
    • Offer to make a payment of £300 to Ms X to remedy the time and trouble she has gone to in pursuing her complaint, and to reflect the Council’s delay in dealing with it.

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Final decision

  1. We uphold this complaint with a finding of faulting leading to an injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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