Act Without Delay
Recent case decisions by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (the Ombudsman) have highlighted some of the points we made in our previous legal blog, which highlighted good practice guidance on how to avoid complaints escalating to the Ombudsman.
You can find our previous legal blog by clicking here: https://www.kingsleyknight.co.uk/to-complain-or-not-to-complain/
The key issues in the cases brought to the Ombudsman detailed below explore how delay can intensify the complaints process
Delay in assessments
Case 1 (case no 23 009 150) decision date: 16 November 2023
Facts of the case:
The grandmother complained about the transition of her granddaughter’s care from local authority care to the grandmother’s care. The complaint was dealt with at stages 1, 2 and 3. (Find out more about the statutory complaints process by clicking https://www.kingsleyknight.co.uk/to-complain-or-not-to-complain/
At the stage 2 complaint process, the independent investigator did find that the local authority had failed to undertake a fostering assessment of the grandmother as a suitable foster carer for her granddaughter even though she had left local authority care and moved in with the grandmother.
The local authority had accepted that the granddaughter was a child who was looked after.
However, the grandmother remained dissatisfied and progressed her complaint to the Ombudsman as follows:
- The local authority had offered to make back payments for the costs she had incurred in looking after her granddaughter. The grandmother complained that the costs were based on the current special guardianship allowance and not in line with the fostering allowance, which she said she should have received as her granddaughter’s foster carer.
- The stage 3 review panel recommended that the local authority make a payment to the grandmother of £2,000 in addition to the back payments. She had only received £400.
- The local authority had delayed whilst considering her complaint.
The Ombudsman found that the local authority was at fault for its failure to assess the grandmother as a foster carer when her granddaughter moved in with her.
The local authority offered the grandmother financial payment for the injustice she suffered.
Key Lesson is when a complaint is made:
- act without delay and
- understand the child’s legal status and the implications of that on the local authority’s duties.
In this case, the local authority accepted that the child was looked after. The local authority was not supportive of the placement of the grandaughter with her grandmother. The grandmother had made an application for a special guardianship order;
However, given the granddaughter was a child who was looked after, whilst living with her grandmother, and prior to the making of the special guardianship order, the local authority was required to complete a fostering assessment. This assessment would consider the approval or not of the grandmother as a kinship foster carer. Also, whilst the granddaughter was in the grandmother’s care, the grandmother should have been paid the fostering allowance.
Delay without an explanation
Case 2 (case no: (23 008 680) decision date 20.11.23
Facts of the case:
The complaint to the Ombudsman was that the local authority had delayed in considering the complaint under the statutory complaints procedure.
The complaint was made, however as there were connected court proceedings, the local authority responded by stating that it would not investigate the complaint until the conclusion of the care proceedings. This is a reasonable action and an understandable position to take.
The original complaint was then remade after the conclusion of the proceedings. Thereafter, despite various requests by letter and emails by the complainants for their complaint to be escalated to stage 2, no further response was received by the local authority in respect of the stage 2 complaints process.
The Ombudsman found there had been delay in completing the complaints process and issuing the complainants a formal response. The Ombudsman requested the local authority to apologise to the complainants and offer a payment of £400 to remedy for the delay.
The local authority agreed to resolve the complaint process and agreed with the Ombudsman’s recommendation.
The key lesson here is that when the complaint was remade, the local authority should have taken action within the statutory timescales. If this was not achievable, then good practice would have been to provide an explanation of why the process will be delayed and renegotiate with the complainant an agreed reasonable extension of time. Finally, to clearly record the discussions and the new timescales.
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