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Ombudsman criticises London council for errors in children’s complaints handling

Council failed to involve mother in assessment and decision making

Two brothers with learning difficulties saw their care and support packages reduced by Lewisham council without their mother being told why, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The Ombudsman's investigation criticised London Borough of Lewisham for failing to involve the mother in the assessment and decision making process properly, for failing to take her complaint through the statutory children's complaint procedure and for the delay in dealing with her complaint when it did take it though the proper process.

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

"In this case the children's situation had not changed but Lewisham council reduced the level of care it provided. The mother has been left upset about not knowing why their support was reduced, or having any kind of input into its review.

"The statutory children's complaints procedure is there to protect vulnerable children and young people and has been operational for more than 10 years. Councils should know by now how to identify a children's services complaint and use the correct process. However, regardless of which statutory procedure is used, councils should follow simple good practice: involve people in decisions which affect them, and respond promptly to concerns."

Initially the boys – who both have autism and other special educational needs – both received a care package which included seven hours a week short break payments and 24 nights a year respite accommodation. The council reviewed both boys' packages without giving the mother the chance to comment, and took the report straight to its Care Package Panel.

It decided the younger boy did not need respite accommodation, and also reduced his direct payments from seven hours per week to four. The council also reduced the older boy's stays at the respite accommodation by half.
The mother complained to the council but it took a number of months to inform her of the outcome. Even after the Ombudsman became involved, the council took eight months to consider the complaint through the proper procedure.

In this case, the Ombudsman said that the council should apologise to the mother for the time taken to deal with her complaint, pay her £400 for the avoidable distress caused and a further £150 for the time and trouble in pursuing her complaint.

It should also approach the respite provider to clarify whether the second son would have been offered a place had his name remained on the waiting list. It should then arrange for him to receive two overnight stays for each month missed over the next 12 months.

The council should improve its Care Panel decision-making process and review its procedures for identifying and dealing with complaints involving children and young people to ensure it meets its statutory duties.