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Council fails to investigate children’s services complaints properly

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has criticised Isle of Wight Council for failing to properly investigate a mother’s complaint about the way it removed her disabled son’s personal budget.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council did not follow procedures set out in law for dealing with complaints about children’s services, and by the time the Ombudsman became involved the council had delayed the woman’s complaint by more than a year.

The mother’s complaint centred on the council deciding to stop the money she received as a personal budget for her son, who has complex needs, because it said she was not spending the money in line with their agreement.

After being unhappy with the council’s initial response, the mother asked the council four times to escalate her complaint to Stage 2 of the three-stage statutory children’s complaints procedure. Each time she asked for her complaint to be escalated, the council decided her dissatisfaction was about a separate issue and was a new complaint. But her complaint was about the same issue throughout and any new issues were the result of the council’s failure to investigate her complaint correctly.

The mother sought help from a solicitor to try to get the council to escalate her complaint. The council then told her she needed to meet certain criteria before it would be progressed.

As part of the Ombudsman’s investigation, it became apparent other people on the island had also not had their complaints properly considered through the statutory process.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“Statutory guidance says councils must progress complaints through all three stages of the children’s complaints procedure if that is what the person wants.

“By putting barriers and conditions on the mother’s complaint and insisting she was making new complaints even when they covered the same issues, the council was, in effect, gatekeeping and preventing her from accessing her statutory rights.

“I am pleased the council has accepted my recommendations and hope the training and procedural changes it has agreed to make will ensure other complaints are handled properly in future.

“I will be issuing new guidance to local authorities shortly to clarify how I expect them to tackle children’s complaints.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the family and pay the son £100 to acknowledge he did not have access to a service he was entitled to for two months. It will also pay the mum £300 to acknowledge the uncertainty and distress caused and £500 to acknowledge the time and trouble caused by not escalating her complaint to stage two.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to review its procedures for personal budgets and develop a procedure to respond to concerns about how a payee is using or managing a personal budget.

The council has also agreed to provide all staff training on the statutory complaint procedure, and task a senior officer not previously involved to contact all complainants that were refused a Stage 2 or Stage 3 complaint and ensure each refusal complied with the statutory guidance. If any do not, it should take steps to reopen those complaint investigations and progress to the next stage if the complainant wishes.

Article date: 11 March 2021