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Councils can investigate parents’ complaints without consent of minors

Ombudsman clarifies local authority’s obligation

Lancashire County Council has agreed to apologise to a father after it told him it could not investigate his children's services complaint without the consent of his son.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has said parents have a right to complain, the council has a legal obligation to consider a complaint and it does not need a child's consent to investigate a complaint made by their parent.

The case came to the Ombudsman after Lancashire Council did not properly investigate a complaint about the services it provided to a father and his partner when they took on the care of his previously estranged son.

The man claimed that the lack of support meant the relationship with the son broke down, his and his partner's mental health was negatively affected, and the couple's relationship broke down. The boy was eventually taken into the local authority's care.

When the man complained, the council did not take his complaint through the statutory three-stage process, and instead directed him to the Ombudsman.

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

"Councils can only vary from the statutory children's complaints process in exceptional circumstances. The council was at fault for refusing to investigate complaints made by a parent because the child had not given consent. We would also not expect any council to routinely refuse to investigate a complaint on the basis of the child's interests or wishes.

"I welcome Lancashire County Council's readiness to accept the report's findings and hope this clarifies the complaints process in future."

In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the man and pay him £300 in recognition of the distress caused and a further £250 for the time and trouble of bringing the complaint to the Ombudsman. The council has also agreed to inform children's services staff of the Ombudsman's view it does not need the child's consent to investigate a parent's complaint. It should also ensure staff follow the statutory children's complaint procedure in future.

For the report, click here.