The Children Act 1989 Complaints Procedure

This fact sheet is for people who wish to make, or have already made, a complaint about Children’s Services. It advises you on the way the council should deal with your complaint and when you can ask us to consider it.

How will the council consider my complaint?

Many complaints about Children’s Services, made by or on behalf of children, can be considered under a special three stage procedure – the Children Act procedure. If you complain to the council, it should tell you whether it is going to consider your complaint through its own procedure, or under the Children Act statutory procedure.

The Children Act Procedure

What is covered under the statutory procedure?

The procedure covers complaints about the council’s services to children in need or in care; about how the Council applies to take a child into care; many complaints about fostering and adoption services and complaints about services to children leaving care. You can find further details about what is covered by following the link to the relevant guidance (Getting the best from complaints).

Is there anything excluded from the procedure?

The procedure does not include complaints about child protection matters or how the council assesses families and prepares reports for the court in private proceedings (so-called Section 7 or 37 reports). These will be dealt with under the council’s own complaints procedure.

The procedure is primarily to consider complaints by or about children. If your complaint is about how the council has treated you as an adult, it will probably be considered under the council’s own procedure.

councils may decide not to accept a complaint that is made late (ie over a year after the events complained of) but should not impose this restriction rigidly. It may suspend investigation of a complaint if there is ongoing court action or police investigations.

If you believe the council is unreasonably refusing to investigate your complaint, you can complain to us.

How will the council consider the complaint?

The procedure has three stages: the first is a response to the complaint from the department concerned. The second stage is an investigation and report carried out by someone independent of the department and with independent oversight. The third stage is a Review Panel. The Panel is made up of independent people.

There are strict timescales for responses at each stage. You should get a stage 1 response within 10 days of complaining. If you ask for your complaint to go to stage 2, the investigation should take no more than 25 days for a simple complaint and no more than 65 days if the complaint is more complex. If a complaint unavoidably goes over these deadlines, the council should seek your agreement.

A stage 3 Review Panel should meet within 30 days of you requesting it. Afterwards, the Panel must provide you with its report within five working days. The council then has 15 working days to respond to the Panel’s findings.

We can, and do, criticise councils for exceeding these deadlines without good reason.

When can I bring my complaint to the Ombudsman?

Because the Children Act procedure is set out in law, we normally expect you to complete it before coming to us. However, we will sometimes accept a complaint early if, for example:

  • there are serious delays in the process;

  • the council has admitted fault but hasn’t agreed to put a remedy in place; or

  • you can demonstrate the relationship between you and the council has broken down

Please contact us if you believe any of these circumstances apply to you.

What happens if I am still unhappy after the council has completed its response to my complaint?

Please call us on 0300 061 0614. It would help if you have the council’s written or email response to your complaint (if it has sent one) when you call, as our Adviser will ask you some questions about what the letter or email says. The complaint will be passed to one of our Assessment teams for consideration.

Examples of complaints about the Children Act procedure

Mrs M complained to the council about the support it was providing for her disabled child. Unhappy with the council’s response at Stage 1 of the Children Act complaint procedure, she asked to go to Stage 2. The council refused because it said a Stage 2 investigation would not achieve anything different for Mrs M.
If the council has accepted a complaint under the statutory procedure, it has to go to stage 2 or 3 if the complainant asks for it. The Ombudsman would advise the council to deal with the complaint at Stage 2 and, if it refused again, could consider the council's handling of the complaint and the issues which gave rise to it.
Mr F is seeking contact with his daughter D. The court has asked the council to assess Mr F and his former wife and to prepare a “section 7” report. Mr F complains that the report is biased against him.
This complaint is not covered by the Children Act procedure and, because it relates to evidence for court, the Ombudsman cannot investigate either the report or the way the council has considered Mr F’s complaint about it.
Ms X says that the council has dealt with her complaint at all three stages of the Children Act procedure and has agreed that there was serious fault. However, it hasn’t apologised to her or compensated her for services her children have missed out on.
The Ombudsman can consider whether the council, by failing to provide a remedy, has dealt properly with the complaint.
Mr Y says that the council has wrongly investigated false allegations of abuse made against him by his children’s mother. It refuses to investigate his complaints about this.
These circumstances are not covered by the Children Act procedure but the council should still look at them under its own procedure. The Ombudsman could consider a complaint both about the council’s failure to deal with the complaint and the issues at the heart of the complaint. One outcome could be that we ask the council to consider the complaint properly. Mr Y could then come back to us if he was not happy with the council’s response.
We provide a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

Last updated: September 2019