The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complained about the Council’s conduct of a safeguarding investigation. There is no fault in how the Council involved Mrs X in the investigation or shared Mrs X’s personal data. There is fault in the Council’s failure to consider relevant evidence. The Council also delayed sending Mrs X minutes of a safeguarding meeting and took too long to complete the investigation. This is fault. The Council has agreed to apologise, pay Mrs X £250 and review its findings.
- Mrs X complains about the Council’s conduct of a safeguarding investigation. In particular, she says the Council:
- Took too long to conduct the investigation
- Delayed sending her documents and minutes
- Denied her the opportunity to contribute to the investigation
- Ignored relevant evidence
- Shared confidential information about her with third parties
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)
- We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I spoke to Mrs X about the complaint and considered the information she provided.
- I made written enquiries of the Council and considered its response along with relevant law and guidance.
- I referred to the Ombudsman’s Guidance on Remedies, a copy of which can be found on our website.
- Mrs X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
- A council must make necessary enquiries if it has reason to think a person may be at risk of abuse or neglect and has needs for care and support which mean he or she cannot protect himself or herself. It must also decide whether it or another person or agency should take any action to protect the person from abuse or risk. (section 42, Care Act 2014)
- In May 2019, the Council began an investigation to Mrs X’s involvement with the care and support of a vulnerable adult, whom I will call Ms Z.
- In order to protect Ms Z’s anonymity, I will not set out the specific nature of her needs or of Mrs X’s relationship to her.
- The Council was concerned about Mrs X’s involvement in Ms Z’s care package. In particular, whether she had an inappropriate financial interest in Ms Z’s care package.
- The Council’s investigation was complex and it took a long time. In February 2021, it concluded its investigation. It found that its safeguarding concerns were substantiated. This means it found that Mrs X had acted in a way which put Ms Z and her care at risk.
- Mrs X complains about how the Council conducted this investigation.
- I will deal with each element of Mrs X’s complaint in turn.
Length of the investigation
- Mrs X says the Council took much too long to complete the safeguarding investigation.
- In response to my enquiries, the Council says that the investigation took a long time because of the complicated nature of Mrs X’s involvement. It also explained the impact of COVID-19 and staff illness on its ability to conduct the investigation.
- Although the reasons the investigation took so long are understandable, it nonetheless took the Council much longer that the four weeks its policy states. This is fault.
- This caused Mrs X additional distress and uncertainty at an already difficult time. This is an injustice to Mrs X.
Delay providing minutes
- The Council interviewed Mrs X in September 2020. However, it failed to provide her with the minutes of this interview until it responded to her complaint in March 2021.
- The Council says it accepted it had failed to send the minutes and had apologised to Mrs X.
- Not to send the minutes to Mrs X was fault. This denied Mrs X the opportunity to comment on the accuracy of the record of the meeting and caused avoidable frustration. This is an injustice to Mrs X.
Denied the opportunity to contribute
- Mrs X says the Council denied her the opportunity to contribute fully to the investigation.
- The Council says it would not have been appropriate for it to discuss the matter with Mrs X until it had gathered the necessary evidence. It says this was necessary to protect Ms Z and to prevent any opportunity for altering or disposing of evidence.
- There is no fault in the Council’s decision not to discuss the safeguarding concern with Mrs X until it had gathered evidence.
- Once it had gathered the evidence, the Council met with Mrs X to discuss the matter. Mrs X had the opportunity to explain her role in Ms Z’s care and to respond to the Council’s concerns.
- Mrs X may consider that matters could have been resolved more quickly had it spoken with her sooner, or indeed that the outcome of the investigation would be different had it done so. However, it is for the Council to decide how to conduct its investigation and its primary concern must be the welfare of the vulnerable adult. Therefore, I do not find that the Council denied Mrs X the opportunity to contribute to the investigation.
Ignored relevant evidence
- Mrs X says the Council failed to consider relevant evidence before deciding that the safeguarding concern was substantiated.
- In particular, she says the Council did not talk to Ms Z’s housing provider. Mrs X says this was necessary to understand her involvement in Ms Z’s care.
- There is no evidence the Council considered whether it should seek information from the housing provider. In response to my enquiries, it says it did not consider it necessary. However, there is no evidence it weighed up this decision at the time.
- Given the serious nature of the Council’s findings and the complex nature of Ms Z’s care arrangements, I consider the Council’s failure to seek information from the housing provider to be fault.
- As a result, there is uncertainty about whether the Council’s findings would have been different were it not for the fault. This is an injustice to Mrs X.
Shared confidential information
- Mrs X says the Council shared confidential information about her, and the investigation, with third parties. She says this violated her privacy and is a breach of data protection regulations.
- The Council’s records show that it did discuss the safeguarding concern with third parties. However, these third parties were all relevant to the investigation. The records also show that the Council Officer conducting the investigation informed these third parties that the matter was a confidential one.
- I find no fault with how the Council dealt with Mrs X’s personal information as part of its safeguarding investigation.
- To remedy the injustice to Mrs X from the faults I have identified, the Council has agreed to:
- Apologise to Mrs X in writing
- Pay Mrs X £250 in recognition of her avoidable distress, uncertainty, and frustration.
- seek information from the housing provider about Mrs X’s role in setting up and maintaining Ms Z’s tenancy and consider whether the information provided affects its findings. Notify Mrs X and other relevant parties accordingly.
- I have completed my investigation. There is some fault by the Council. The action I have recommended is a suitable remedy for the injustice caused.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman