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1.8.1 Corporate and Statutory Complaints within Children’s Services

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This guidance is for all Children’s Services Staff.

RELATED GUIDANCE

Whistleblowing about children's social care services to Ofsted

RELEVANT CHAPTERS

Compliments Procedure

Getting the Best from Complaints Procedure

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in August 2016 when a link to the guidance for whistleblowing to Ofsted was added.


Contents

Working with the Corporate Complaints Procedure within Children’s Services

  1. Working with the Corporate Complaints Procedure within Children’s Services Flowcharts
  2. Introduction
  3. Children’s Services Complaints Team and an Introduction to Complaints
  4. How Can Service Users Complain?
  5. What Can Service Users Complain About?
  6. What type of Complaint Cannot be dealt with under the Councils Corporate Complaints Procedure
  7. How Does Step 1 of the Complaint Procedure Work and What do you Need to do?
  8. How Does Step 2 Work and What do you Need to do?
  9. The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO)
  10. Work/Role of the Complaints Team
   
Working with the Statutory Complaints Procedure within Children’s Services

  1. Process Chart of the Statutory Complaint Procedure
  2. Overview of the Statutory Complaint Procedure
  3. Frequently Asked Questions in relation to the Statutory Procedure for Children and Young People
  4. Role of the Investigating Officer (Stage/Step 2)


Working with the Corporate Complaints Procedure

1. Working with the Corporate Complaints Procedure within Children’s Services Flowchart

Click here to view flowchart


2. Introduction

The public’s willingness to complain and the way that they do it have changed dramatically over the years. There are several reasons for this growth and change; one of which is legislation, which has given the public extra legal rights, and more importantly, made them aware of how they can use them. This surge in legislation means that today’s public are move aware of their rights and better protected should they wish to enforce them. Nationally, complaining has become a massive growth industry which has not gone unnoticed. 

With this in mind, good complaints handling is important but particular care has to be taken with service provision as it here that complaints are least likely to be successfully resolved for all concerned. The way we handle our complaints says lot about the way we feel toward our service users. The complaint procedures should not be seen as an add-on to existing customer care procedures, but to work effectively, they must be an integral part of the way we deal with the user of our services.

The purpose of this guidance is:

  • To provide staff with information on the range of statutory and non statutory complaint procedures in addition to personal data requests;
  • To advise staff on their role within these procedures;
  • To advise staff on the role of the Children’s Services Complaints Team; and
  • To provide staff with some tips on effective complaint handling.


3. Children’s Services Complaints Team and an Introduction to Complaints

The Children and Families Service has a Team that deals with their complaints, compliments, Member/MP enquiries and requests for access to records. It was agreed that they would carry out a similar function across Children’s Services. However, it should be noted that Member/MP Enquiries (see Working with Member and MP Enquiries Procedure) are still managed directly by Children’s Services along with Freedom of Information Requests. 

The Children’s Services Complaints Team are required to register, monitor, review and report on complaints from the public in line with the appropriate complaint procedures. Similarly, there is a requirement that staff receiving any such complaints either by letter, email, fax or phone to advise the Complaints Team immediately.

This Council has a 2-Step complaint procedure (see Section 6, How Does Step 1 of the Complaint Procedure Work and What do you Need to do?) usually referred to as the “Council’s Corporate Complaint Procedure”. All Step 1 and Step 2 complaints must be registered with the Children’s Services Complaints Team. Complaints will be registered and monitored, by the Complaints Team using the Respond System which is a password protected feedback management database that is extensively used to capture, process and report on complaints, compliments, enquires and requests for access to records. 

When is a complaint a complaint?

The usual rule of thumb would be when the customer or service user says it’s a complaint, then it’s a complaint!!  However, the expectation is that service areas would first try to resolve the problem without invoking the Council’s Corporate Complaint Procedure.  Particularly, where the customer or service user has not raised the matter before and the service area has not had the opportunity to try and put the matter right.

Complaints that have a “quick fix” or can be sorted on the spot although important, it is also recognised that too much time could be spent in capturing and recording this type of complaint.  If a customer or service user is not satisfied with the service they receive from the Council, they have the right to raise it immediately with the Council employee concerned. You should attempt to resolve the complaint quickly and informally at the first point of contact, if it is in your power to do so. This is an informal unrecorded process and it is at here that most complaints are usually and satisfactorily dealt with. However, those complaints that cannot be sorted quickly or by a simple phone call, consideration must be given to how best to proceed.

Where the above action has failed to resolve the problem or concern and the customer or service user remains dissatisfied they should be advised of the Council’s Corporate Complaint Procedure.


4. How Can Service Users Complain?

Service users can complain in a range of ways, for example:

  1. In person;
  2. By phone;
  3. By letter;
  4. By email; or
  5. By completing the form in the “How to make a complaint about our services” leaflet.


5. What Can Service Users Complain About?

Service users can complain about a range of different things, for example (but not limited to):

  1. An unsatisfactory quality or level of service;
  2. They feel that we have not treated them fairly or politely
  3. An action (or lack of action) taken;
  4. A delay in taking action or replying;
  5. They are unhappy with a service area decision (and no other appeal mechanism exists);
  6. We have not done something we should have done;
  7. A failure to provide information or give correct information; or
  8. A failure to follow our own policies or procedures.


6. What type of Complaint Cannot be dealt with under the Councils Corporate Complaints Procedure

The following lists those areas that should not be processed using the Council’s Corporate Complaints procedure.

  1. Complaints about individual officers of the Council - these will be dealt with, where appropriate, under Disciplinary Procedures;
  2. Complaints about Redbridge Councillors - these should be referred to the Council’s Monitoring Officer or The Standards Board for England;
  3. Complaints about decisions taken by Redbridge Councillors - the customer should be advised to contact his or her ward councillor or MP;
  4. Complaints about Area Committees - these should be addressed to the Area Secretary, Antoinette Davis;
  5. Complaints about outside organisations who do not work for us;
  6. Complaints about something the customer knew about more than one year ago (unless we think it is reasonable to look into it despite the delay);
  7. Complaints about something the customer has gone to court about or is about to go to court about;
  8. Insurance claims against us - these should be dealt with by the Insurance section in Finance;
  9. Allegations of financial impropriety - these should be referred to Internal Audit in Finance;
  10. A request for service or report of a defect or fault - however, if a defect or requested for service is reported and no action is taken, a second report or request would be a complaint;
  11. Complaints about school admissions.  Complaints about school admissions should be redirected to the Admissions and Awards Team - Manager, Helen Cole;
  12. Complaints about the schools (please refer to the Staff guidance document:  Complaints/concern handling within the Children’s Services Authority);
  13. Complaints about statements of educational needs has it’s own appeal mechanism and should be referred to the caseworker.


7. How Does Step 1 of the Complaint Procedure Work and What do you Need to do?

Most staff will only be dealing with complaints at this step of the procedure. Many complaints are successfully dealt with at this early stage; so front-line staff and their managers have a key role to play in preventing complaints escalating to the next step. However, this isn’t always possible and when complaints do escalate, it shouldn’t be seen as a failure.

Dealing with Anonymous Complaints

If received discretion needs to be exercised. A complaint does not have to be considered if it is anonymous. However, the risk of not dealing with the complaint must be assessed and then a judgement made.  If a decision is taken to consider an anonymous complaint, any response must be filed so actions can be later evidenced.  If it is decided not to consider the complaint the reasons for doing so need to be clearly recorded

Verbal Complaints

Where a verbal complaint/concern is received and all attempts to resolve the problem, outside of the complaint procedure, have failed the complainant should be advised of the Councils Complaint Procedure.

To help focus verbal complaints and to ensure an adequate and encompassing response staff should gather and record as much information as possible regarding the precise nature of the complaint. 

Letters/Emails of Complaint

Where a letter of complaint is received in the post, it should be dated by the receiver and faxed to the Complaints Team for logging. Where an emailed complaint is received it should be electronically forwarded to the Complaints Team. 

Details of all Step 1 complaints must be forwarded to the Complaints Team who will arrange for a letter of acknowledgement to be sent to the complainant and for the complaint to be registered. Once a complaint has been received into the organisation, Children’s Services has 10 working days in which to provide a response to the complainant.

The response to a Step 1 irrespective of whether they are verbal or otherwise must have a written response from the service area being complained about. A written response to Step 1 can be signed-off by a:

  1. Member of staff dealing with the complaint; or a
  2. Social or case worker; or a
  3. Team Leader/Team Manager; or a
  4. Principal Officer, Heads of Service (HOS)/Functional Unit Managers (FUMs).

Chief Officers must avoid getting involved with Step 1 complaints as they are required to consider an investigating officers Step 2 report should the complainant wish to pursue the complaint further.   The Investigating Officer must not be directly involved with the day-to-day management of the service being complained about or the Step 1 complaint. This provides impartiality and objectivity when investigating at Step 2.

At this early stage of a complaint, it is recommended that both Directors and Chief Officers do not get involved, on paper, in any aspect of a Step 1 complaint.

The Complaints Team are happy to “quality or response check” the proposed response to the complainant.  A response, to the Step 1 complaint, should be provided within 10 working days of receipt by the Council, “signed off” by the appropriate member of staff.

The Step 1 response should include something very similar to the following standard paragraph:

“This response covers Step 1 of the Council’s Complaints Procedure. If you remain dissatisfied you can proceed to the second and final step of the procedure and will need to advise the Children’s Services Complaints Team within 10 working days of receiving this letter. Their contact details are: Children’s Services Complaints Team, Ley Street House, First Floor, 497-499 Ley Street, Ilford, Essex, IG2 7QX. Their email address is: childrenscomplaints@redbridge.gov.uk. Alternatively, you can telephone them on: 020 8708 5174.“

In relation to Step 1 complaints, the Children’s Services Complaints Team will:

  1. Acknowledge with the complainant the receipt of their Step 1 complaint within 1 working day;
  2. Register the Step 1 complaint on the Respond Database, in the same time frame as above, provide a unique reference number and advise the member of staff on the complaints process;
  3. Monitor the complaints process and where necessary send reminders to staff dealing with complaints and holding letters to complainants;
  4. Send draft response template to staff for complaint responses;
  5. Provide constructive comments to staff within 1 working day in relation to proposed or draft responses;
  6. Provide fortnightly reports detailing all ‘open cases’ for the Director, Chief Officers, Functional Unit Manager’s and Team Leaders;
  7. Provide quarterly Functional Unit reports with a breakdown of complaints, and compliments in terms of volumes, performance in relation to agreed/legislated timescales and emerging trends; and
  8. Provide quarterly management reports with an overview of above and any relevant information, legislation, proposed initiatives and recommendations.

To complete the Step 1 process, an electronic version of the Step 1 response must be forwarded to the Children’s Services Complaints Team followed by a signed hard copy in the internal post. 


8. How Does Step 2 Work and What do you Need to do?

Any request for a Step 2 or continued dissatisfaction following on from a Step 1 complaint should be forwarded immediately to the Children’s Services Complaints Team. The Complaints Team will arrange for the complaint to be registered and forwarded with all relevant details to the appropriate Chief Officer.

The Chief Officer will appoint a senior officer (known as the investigating officer) to investigate the complaint and prepare a report. The Investigating Officer must not be directly involved with the day-to-day management of the service being complained about or the Step 1 complaint. This provides impartiality and objectivity when investigating at Step 2.

As part of the Step 2 process, the Complaints Team will:

  1. Acknowledge with the complainant the receipt of their Step 2 complaint within 3 working days;
  2. Give guidance to both the Chief Officer and the investigating officer where required on the process and procedure to be followed;
  3. Arrange for an external investigator as required;
  4. Provide the investigating officer with an electronic report template;
  5. If available provide, staff to help take notes of meetings/interviews with either staff or complainant;
  6. Monitor the Step 2 complaints process and where necessary send reminders to staff dealing with the investigation and holding letters to complainants;
  7. Read, edit and critique the draft Step 2 investigation report;
  8. Provide the Chief Officer with a response template;
  9. Arrange Step 2 de-brief meetings so that those involved with a Step 2 complaint have an opportunity to comment and agree how any recommendations and lessons learnt will be implemented; and
  10. Provide quarterly reports with an overview of above and any relevant information, legislation, proposed initiatives and recommendations.

The Step 2 response from the Chief Officer should be made within 20 working days of the date the investigating officer is appointed to investigate the complaint.

The Step 2 response must include something very similar to the following standard paragraph:

If you are dissatisfied with how your complaint has been handled at Step 2 and feel you need to take your complaint further you can ask the Local Government Ombudsman to investigate your complaint. The Ombudsman is an independent person who investigates complaints about local councils. His service is free and you can write to him at: 10th Floor, Millbank Tower, Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP. Alternatively, you can telephone their advice line on: 0845 602 1983 (lo-call rate) or visit the Ombudsman website.

Further Step 2 guidance is available for investigating officers from the Children’s Services Complaints Team on request.


9. The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO)

If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of the Step 2, they must be advised of their right to approach the Local Government Ombudsman. The letter the complainant receives from the Chief Officer will contain information about how to complain to the Local Government Ombudsman.

The Corporate Complaints Team, based in the Town Hall are the first point of contact with regard to matters concerning the LGO.  There are three Local Government Ombudsmen in England and they each deal with complaints from different parts of the country. The Local Government Ombudsman is an independent person who investigates complaints about most council matters including housing, planning, education, social services and council tax. 

The Local Government Ombudsmen:

  • Are appointed by Her Majesty the Queen;
  • Are independent of Government and councils;
  • Have the same powers as the High Court to obtain information and documents;
  • Are committed to giving an equal service to all members of the public; and.
  • There is no charge for using the Ombudsman’s service

The Local Government Ombudsman has a leaflet called 'Complaint about the Council? - How to Complain to the Local Government Ombudsman'. You can obtain a copy by telephoning or writing to the above details, or you can download it from the Ombudsman website.

If the public have an enquiries about the Local Government Ombudsman's service they can telephone the LGO’s Advice Line on 0845 602 1983.


10. Work/Role of the Complaints Team

The Complaints Team register and monitor complaints, compliments, Freedom of Information Requests, Member/MP Enquires (see Working with Member and MP Enquiries Procedure) and requests for access to Social Services records within Children’s Services and the Trust.

This means all complaints, compliments, Member/MP enquiries and requests for access to records (includes e-mails, faxes, letters, memos and telephone calls) should be forwarded to the Performance and Partnership Team to be registered and monitored on Respond (complaints database).

Respond is a password protected feedback management database that is used to capture, process and report on complaints, compliments, enquires and requests for access to records.

Legislation provides that all Local Authorities establish procedures for dealing with complaints and representations in relation to the functions of Social Services. Within Children and Families, the Children Act 1989 - Representation Procedure is usually applied. The Council also has its own Corporate Complaints Procedure, which is usually invoked by the Complaints and Investigation Manager. 

A Few Things to Consider when Dealing with a Complaint

The customer is not always right - but they are always the customer!!

Our aim should be:

  • To respond to complainants as if they are giving us gifts. Thank them for taking the time and effort to help us learn how to better satisfy them; and
  • To adopt a conciliatory approach when writing letters or a mixture of the following:
    • Accommodating;
    • Agreeable;
    • Appeasing;
    • Obliging;
    • Harmonious;
    • Civil.    

Say who you are - service users prefer to deal with people whose names they know.

Make sure you have recorded properly the service users contact details - read it back to them to make sure.

Listen to what they are saying and don’t talk the same time they are - if you are talking then it means that you are not listening.

Don’t blame someone else in the organisation for the complainant’s problem.

Don’t bring humour into a serious or delicate situation - complainants take themselves and their problems very seriously.

Avoid using technical terms or jargon - talking over their heads may make them feel insecure and angry.

Don’t resort to sarcasm - whether conveyed by your words, the tome of your voice or the expression on you face, it always causes an individual to feel “put down”, insulted and treated with a general lack of respect.

Helpful Hints for Effective Step 1 Letter Writing

All written correspondence should be helpful, polite, and as friendly as the subject matter allows. Every letter you write is a letter from the Council so should reflect the corporate style.

All Written material should be:

  • Clear;
  • Concise;
  • Accurate;
  • Relevant;
  • Well presented;
  • Grammatically correct;
  • Logically arranged; and
  • Sensitive to the reader’s background.

Planning your response is essential. You need to make sure you understand the complaint and are clear on what you are writing. Asking yourself the following may help focus your response:

  • What is being asked?
  • What does the (complainant) already know?
  • What is it that I am I trying to tell them?
  • In what order am I going to write?; and
  • What will the likely effect of my response be?

Tips on Writing Letters with a Specific Message

Writing YES Letters:

  • Always try to give the good news first;
  • Explain the good news, clearing up any likely queries; and
  • Finish with a goodwill statement.

Writing NO Letters:

  • Open with a neutral statement;
  • Give the bad news;
  • Explain the reasons for refusing the request;
  • Suggest possible options if any; and
  • Close with a good will statement.

Writing INFORMATIVE Letters:

  • Open with a clear statement making it clear if you are responding to received correspondence;
  • Give the information in a logical sequence;
  • Give the source for example a contact name; and
  • Close with a good will statement.

General rules when writing:

  1. Use plain language and words that people generally use;
  2. Never use jargon unless it is unavoidable. If you do use jargon or words and/or phrases which you think may not be known explain what they mean;
  3. Use short and concise sentences wherever possible, as they are easier to read;
  4. Make sure you have answered all the points;
  5. Check that the response or any attachments do not contain any confidential information that should not be included or forwarded;
  6. Leave the reader with the reassurance that their correspondence has been taken seriously;
  7. Beware, when responding, if you inform the complainant that events did not happen as the complainant suggested, the complainant perceives you are calling them a liar;
  8. Make sure you leave the reader knowing exactly what to do or what to expect next. In the case of complaints, the final paragraph must always be used; and
  9. Check the spelling and proof read your letter.

Example Response Letter

Dear Miss Smith

Re: Corporate Complaints Procedure - Step 1

Thank you for your letter of the 20th October 2007 regarding your concerns in relation to the transport service and your lengthy wait at Ley Street House in order to report this matter.

Before I proceed any further, I can fully understand your annoyance and frustration at being kept waiting on your visit to Ley Street House particularly as you have stated that this was not the first occasion you have been made to wait.  It was disappointing to read the contents of your letter and apologise that you have been left with such a negative experience.

The concerns you have raised relate to two service areas, that being Special Services and Redbridge Transport and these services are subsequently managed by separate Chief Officers. However, in an effort to provide you with a single Step 1 response, I have asked Transport Services to comment on the areas that relate specifically to their service provision and any such comments have been included in the body of this response.

We acknowledge and apologise that during the early part of the Summer Term 2007, the vehicle that takes Samuel and Sara to and from Wells Primary School arrived very late on several mornings.  Regrettably, on one morning, Sara missed the start of her PE lesson.  Generally, during the September Term there are a number of factors that cause an increase in traffic congestion within the Borough. Transport routes that are affected by this traffic congestion usually settle by the end of September or early October when a more regular pattern of pick-up and drop-off time on all transport routes start to emerge.  Having said this, we are not able to predict local traffic conditions that may affect the smooth running of the routes.  We do however, endeavour to contact parents of those routes significantly affected by any transport delays as and when they happen.

Whilst every effort is made to provide an efficient, well run service there will be times when this aim may be hampered by a variety of factors, many of which are outside of our control.  Additionally, a transport service provided for groups of users with a range of pick-up and drop-off points will clearly require some compromise if the most efficient route is to be adopted, and it is therefore the requirements of users in general, rather than individuals, that are paramount.

I thank you for taking the time to bring this matter to our attention and regret that you have had cause to complain.  We will always try hard to provide a well run service and hope that we can continue to work together to resolve any continuing issues.  If you wish to discuss further the content of this letter please contact me using the above telephone number.   However, in the event that remain unhappy with the response and wish to have the matter looked at further please contact the Complaints Team on.......   

Yours sincerely,

 

 

Sean Penn
Senior Customer Relations Officer


Working with the Statutory Complaints Procedure

1. Process Chart of the Statutory Complaint Procedure

Click here to view process chart


2. Overview of the Statutory Complaint Procedure

Introduction

The Complaints Team is required to register, monitor, review and report on complaints, or enquiries from both the public and Members in line with the statutory procedures. Similarly, there is a requirement that staff receiving any such complaints either by letter, email, fax or phone should advise the Complaints Team immediately.

Stage One - Local Resolution

Stage one of the process requires the local authority to resolve a complaint quickly and effectively at the point of contact with the service user/carer. The Complaints Manager must be informed as soon as possible of any complaint so it can be recorded and monitored in line with our statutory obligation. There is a 10 working day time limit for this part of the process. Most Stage 1 complaints should ideally be concluded within this time limit. 

A further 10 working days can be added in more complex complaints or where time is needed to appoint an advocate. If the complainant is in agreement, this can be extended further for example, a key person is off sick. The maximum amount of time that a Stage 1 should take is 20 working days.  After this deadline, the complainant can request consideration at Stage 2 if they so wish.

A child/young person has a legal right to an independent and confidential advocate if making or intending to make a complaint; the local authority must actively provide necessary information and help to ensure that the child/young person is treated fairly. It is imperative that the local authority is confident that the advocate is acting with informed consent of the child or young person.

Advocacy

As from the 1st April 2004, Local Authorities will be required to offer/provide advocacy to all children in need, including looked after children and young people leaving care, when they express a wish to make a complaint, about any council service (Section 24D/Section 26 of the Children Act 1989).

The Children’s Rights Advocate will provide in house advocacy in the first instance. Outside advocacy will be spot purchased if:

  • The child expresses a wish for an advocate of a different culture/ gender;
  • The child requests a change of advocate; and /or
  • When the Children’s Rights Advocate is unavailable.

The Children’s Rights Advocate (Janet Edwards) can give advice to children and young people in relation to their rights. Part of her role is to help the child or young person to be heard.  Her contact details are: 020 8708 5811 or email: childrens.rights@redbridge.gov.uk

The advocate’s role will be to:

  • Facilitate the making of the complaint;
  • Represent and support the child through the process; and
  • Enable the child to express their views and clarify the outcome they are seeking.

Advocacy does not have to be provided if a parent or other adult makes the complaint on behalf of the child.

A written response to Stage 1 can be signed by a:

  • Member of staff dealing with the complaint; or
  • Social worker; or
  • Team Leader/Manager; or
  • Principal Officer.

A  “cut off point” has been introduced and a complaint must be received within one year of the date of the event.  Unless there are special circumstances whereby, it would be possible to consider the complaint, ensuring the complaint process is fair to all parties involved.

Stage 2 - Investigation

An investigating officer must be appointed, who should not be in direct line management of the service or person about whom the complaint is made.

An Independent Person must be appointed in addition to the Investigating Officer for complaints under this statutory procedure. The investigation should be completed and the response sent out within 25 working days. However, where this is not possible, it may be extended for up to 65 working days but throughout this process the complainant must be kept informed of the reasons attributing to any delay.

In part, the Independent Person’s role is to ensure that the process of investigation is open, transparent and fair; work alongside the Investigating Officer to provide an independent and objective view to the investigation of complaints; and they must be involved in all aspects of consideration of the complaint including any discussions in the authority about the action to be taken in relation to the child/young person.

The Complaints Manager should ensure that the local authority appoints an Investigating Officer to lead on the investigation of the complaint and prepare a written report for adjudication by an Adjudicating Officer (usually the Chief Children and Families Officer of the Children and Families Service.

The Adjudicating Officer will prepare a response to the complainant based on the findings of the Investigating Officer. This will include decisions about whether the complaint is upheld, partially or not upheld. The actions that will be taken and the timescales for their implementation. 

The Adjudicating Officer’s response will also contain details of the complainant’s right to have the complaint submitted to a Review Panel, if she/he is dissatisfied and that they have 20 working days in which to make this request.

Stage 3 - Review Panel Hearing

The Panel must be held within 30 working days of the receipt of a request. The local authority must acknowledge the request within 2 working days of receiving it. 

The Panel must consist of 3 independent people and in this case independent means a person who is neither a member nor an officer of the local authority to which the complaint has been made.  One member of the Panel should be assigned as Chair of the Panel. 

After the Panel has heard the case it is required to produce and send a written report containing a brief summary of the representation and their subsequent recommendations within 5 working days to all those in attendance with a copy to the Group Director of Children’s Services.

The Director of Children’s services is required to send their response to the Panel’s recommendations to the complainant (and other participants as necessary) within 15 working days of the receiving the Panel’s report.

Local Government Ombudsman

The Director’s response to the complainant must also advise the complainant of their right to refer the matter to the Local Government Ombudsman if they still remain dissatisfied.

The Local Government Ombudsman is an independent person who investigates complaints about most council matters including housing, planning, education, social services and council tax. The Local Government Ombudsmen:

  • Are appointed by Her Majesty the Queen;
  • Are independent of Government and councils;
  • Have the same powers as the High Court to obtain information and documents;
  • Are committed to giving an equal service to all members of the public; and
  • There is no charge for using the Ombudsman’s service.

The Local Government Ombudsman has a leaflet called 'Complaint about the Council? - How to Complain to the Local Government Ombudsman'. You can obtain a copy by telephoning or writing to the above details, or you can download it from the Ombudsman website.

If the public have an enquiry about the Local Government Ombudsman's service they can telephone the LGO’s Advice Line on 0845 602 1983 or 024 7682 1960. 


3. Frequently Asked Questions in relation to the Statutory Procedure for Children and Young People

Introduction

The regulations and guidance governing complaints and representations about social services came into force on 1 September 2006. 

Social care and NHS complaints are due to be aligned and this is due to happen in 2009. Some confusion has been added by the slight differences in the complaints procedures for adults’ services and that for children’s services. However, this brief guidance will seek to answer some of the more usual questions in relation to the new Children Act 1989 Representations (complaints) Procedure (England) Regulations 2006 within Children Services.

The statutory procedure (Children Act 1989 Representations (complaints) Procedure (England) Regulations 2006), is there to assist those children and young people and or their carers or representatives who are in receipt of Social Services functions under Part 3 of the Children Act 1989 and now some additional functions under Parts 4 and 5. 

Who is eligible to use the statutory procedure?

  • Any child or young person (or a parent of theirs or someone who has parental responsibility for him or her) who is being *‘[1] looked after’ by the Council or is not looked after by the Council but is ‘in need’;
  • Any Council foster carer (including those caring for children placed through independent fostering agencies);
  • Children leaving care;
  • Special Guardians;
  • A child or young person (or their parent) to whom a Special Guardian order is in force;
  • Any person who had applied for an assessment under section 14F(3) or (4);
  • Persons wishing to adopt a child;
  • Adopted person, their parents, natural parents and former guardians; and
  • Any other person the Council considers has sufficient interest in the child or young person’s welfare to warrant their representation being considered by the Council.

What‘s a complaint under the statutory procedure?

This is a problem or concerns that cannot be sorted or put right immediately and requires a response.

What’s a representation under the statutory procedure?

It can be one of a few things, for example, it could be a problem or concern (which does not have to be treated as if it were a complaint) or a representation might be a positive remark or idea that requires a response from the Council.

What can be complained about using the statutory procedure?

The Council provides a range of different services; some of these services have to be provided by law. The law also says that children and young people (or their representative) have the right to have their representation or complaint dealt with in a structured way.

The statutory procedure will look at representations, including complaints, about, for example, the following:

  • An unwelcome or disputed decision (except where there’s an existing appeal mechanism in place);
  • Concern about the quality or appropriateness of a service;
  • Delay in decision making or provision of services;
  • Delivery or non-delivery of services including complaint procedures;
  • Quantity, frequency, change or cost of a service;
  • Attitude or behaviour of staff
  • Application of eligibility and assessment criteria;
  • The impact on a child or young person of the application of a Council policy; and
  • Assessment, care management and review.

When will the Corporate Complaints procedure be used instead of the statutory procedure?

The Corporate Complaint Procedure would be used when issues giving rise to the complaint fall outside the scope of the statutory procedure.

Are there strategies or other avenues that can be adopted whilst trying sort out the problem or complaint?

Yes. Solving the problems that generate complaints should be at the forefront of the local authority’s approach to responding to children and young people. Involving people and agencies in the community who provide independent advice can assist problem solving and may prevent dissatisfaction developing into complaints

It is important to ensure that attempts at problem solving are not to be used to divert an eligible person from making a complaint under the statutory procedure.

Attempts at resolution should not end once a complaint has been made. Rather, there should be continued efforts to resolve the dissatisfaction of children and young people so that the matter complained about is resolved during consideration of the complaint. Local authorities should also consider introducing alternative ways of resolving the complaint while any given stage is ongoing.  In any case, resolution should be in the best interest of the child concerned, particularly if an adult has complained about the children’s services, but not on the child’s behalf.

There are a number of methods of resolution that do not require a full investigation that can be applied, including:

  • The provision of an apology or explanation;
  • Conciliation and mediation;
  • A reassessment of the children or young person’s needs;
  • Practical action specific to the particular complainant;
  • A review of practice; and,
  • An assurance that the local authority will monitor the effectiveness of its remedy.

Can Alternative Dispute Resolution be considered?

Yes, as there is nothing in the procedure that should preclude either the complainant or the local authority from suggesting Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).  If agreed by both complainant and Complaints Manager, the local authority should explore this option.

However, entering into Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) should not restrict the complainant’s right to request a Review Panel as long as this is within the 20 working day timescale.  Once the final date of the particular resolution process is agreed (i.e. following the final mediation meeting) and should the complainant decide that he wants to invoke his right to a Review Panel, he can terminate ADR at any time.

Can consideration be given to financial recompense?

Yes, under Section 92 of the Local Government Act 2000, local authorities are empowered to remedy injustice arising from maladministration. Remedies will include, but are not restricted to, financial redress.

Each case should be considered on its own merits, and local authorities should develop their own policies to assure consistency across similar injustices. These should ensure that any remedies are implemented reasonably quickly or to take action within a defined framework.

Any application of remedies should:

  • Be appropriate and proportionate to the injustice;
  • Put the complainant in the position he would have been in except for the fault;
  • Consider financial compensation, where the above is not possible;
  • Take into account the complainant’s views and desired outcomes; and
  • Take into account the effect of the complainant’s own actions (such as delay on his part).

For more detailed guidance on the above you will need to contact the Complaints Manager.

Is there a point where consideration can be given to bypassing the Stage 3 Review Panel?

Yes, where the presenting facts indicate that reasonable, appropriate consideration of the complaint has been undertaken at Stage 2 and that further consideration by the Review Panel would not produce a demonstrably different outcome, the Complaints Manager should discuss with the complainant the possibility of referring the complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman. 

For more detailed guidance on statutory procedure you will need to contact the Complaints Manager.

[1] The phrase ‘Looked after’ refers to children who are in the care of the Council or who are provided with accommodation, (defined as accommodation for a continuous period of more than 24 hours s22 (2)) pursuant to any of the functions of a social services committee.


4. Role of the Investigating Officer (Stage/Step 2)

For the purposes of clarity, the role of the Investigating Officer have been outlined in relation to the initial process, that being the first meeting with the complainant.

The role of the Investigating Officer is to:

  1. Explain the complaint process and timescales of Statutory procedure or Corporate Complaint Procedure;
  2. Discuss the content of the Step 2 or Stage 2 submission with the complainant (with IP present if appointed);
  3. Establish the issues from the complainants and service providers perspective;
  4. Take account of the complainant's views and feelings;
  5. Establish your credibility with the complainant;
  6. Clarify any possible ambiguity in so far as their Step 2 or Stage 2 submission is concerned;
  7. Ascertain and gather the facts (check dates, figures, view any evidence, pose enquiring questions);
  8. Review the decision making and discover what led up to the complaint and the complaint being made;
  9. Listen to any additional background information which may help to contextualise the complaint;
  10. Set the boundaries of the investigation (most investigations contain more information than can be fully investigated.  If you explore all avenues you may delay completing the investigation and risk losing the essence of the complaint);
  11. Be objective and remain impartial;
  12. Try to establish what happened, what should have happened and where there is a disparity between the two, what can happened to rectify matters;
  13. Reconsider the facts;
  14. As part of the final report, offer recommendations to resolve the matter;
  15. Ensure there are no new areas of complaint (all the themes of the complaint should have had already had a response at an earlier stage unless of course the issue relates to the length of time taken to complete the first stage of the complaint);
  16. Advise the complainant that any claim for compensation can not be made the complaint process and must be made through the Council's insurance; and
  17. Establish or reconfirm the desired outcomes and what is possible (advise the complainant at an early stage if you believe any of the outcomes are unrealistic and why.  A complainant may be dissatisfied with the outcome of their complaint, especially if their expectations were unrealistic to begin with).

Having Met with the Complainant

Resulting from the meeting you will be expected to itemise, succinctly, the key themes of the complaint and subsequent outcomes that will help to form the basis of your investigation.  On completion of this task, you should forward this to the complainant for their signature.  Your investigation will start once you have their signed agreement.  To reduce any lapse in time you may want to consider using emails to complete this task.

Setting the Boundaries for the Investigation

Before commencing your investigation you will need to be very explicit as to the terms of reference.  You need to maintain your focus of the investigation and to do this you need to clearly set out those areas the investigation will look at and if necessary what areas it can not and why. The Complaint & Investigations Manager can provide you any additional assistance you may require

Collecting and Analysing Information

Your first task is to decide what information is needed to evaluate the complaint. It might include:

  1. Client and management records;
  2. Legislation, policy and or practice guidance and regulations - both national and local;
  3. Any reports which are relevant to the complaint and its context.

If there is no clear policy guidance or written definition of standards you will need to talk to senior members or staff to gain a knowledge of local custom and practice. Similarly, if the complaint is about applying criteria, implementing procedures or making decisions you need to consult with senior managers.  You can also, if appropriate, examine similar cases and compare the practice of the decision with the complaint.

Developing a Chronology

In the analysis of case material, it is vital to develop a chronology. This will give you a clear picture of events in date order leading up to the complaint. It will help you decide which events are significant and which are of only minor importance. It will also help you check the accuracy of different witnesses’ evidence. 

To develop the chronology you could use a set of cards or a similar flexible system. Index cards are ideal. You start by making a note of each event.  Use one card for each event. Note the event, the date and any other points you think important, but avoid putting down too much detail. The object is to keep it simple and clear. As you gather more information you can add more cards and change the order as the pattern of events emerges. Your first attempt will be crude but it provides a framework that you can amend as your investigation progresses. 

Having established the order of each of the events you may want to evaluate each event by posing a series of questions, for example:

  1. What was the decision?
  2. On what information was it based?
  3. What principles informed it?
  4. Who were the participants?
  5. Was the decision effectively communicated to all relevant parties?
  6. Which courses of action were taken and which were ignored?
  7. How was the decision different from or similar to previous decisions?
  8. Is there any rationale available that indicates the context in which a decision was made?
  9. Is there any documentary evidence that reflects what was discussed?

Having done this exercise for each event you should then start to build a history of the complaint.  You will then be able to pinpoint significant changes in the delivery of the service and the reasons for them.

Interviewing

The main goal is to get the information you need to consider the complaint and to do it in a way that aids resolution and learning. The preparations are similar to those for interviewing the complaint.

Send a letter to the interviewees and follow up with a telephone conversation where appropriate to prepare them for the interview:

  1. Ask them to bring to the interview any documents they hold which you have not seen;
  2. When interviewing members of staff you should inform their line manager
  3. Explain their right to have representation and support during the interview.
  4. Introduce yourself and, where appropriate the Independent Person;
  5. Outline the complaint;
  6. Indicate the areas for inquiry;
  7. Prepare as much as possible the line of questioning for each person to be interviewed;
  8. Interviews should be conducted as informal and relaxed manner as possible, to create an atmosphere which is not threatening and which promotes openness
  9. Do not be afraid to ask the same question twice and make notes of the answers given;
  10. Formulate questions aimed at resolving apparent contradictions corroborating softer information, bringing out “hidden” factors (like pressures that were on staff at the time);
  11. Try to separate hearsay evidence from fact by asking the interviewees how they know a particular fact;
  12. Advise them the timetable of events (timescales and process);
  13. Explain who will see the report and the confidentiality issues;
  14. Tell them they will have a copy of the record of the interview; and
  15. After the interview show the interviewee a transcript of all notes taken and make amendments/correct as necessary.

Other Internal Procedures - Grievance, Disciplinary and Whistleblowing Procedure

Complaints processed through the complaints procedure should not be confused with matters dealt with under any of the above procedures. These are separate procedures, but at times they may run parallel with the complaints procedure. If issues raised are of a serious nature, the complaints procedure may be suspended, pending the completion of disciplinary procedures.

Report Writing

A report is a presentation of facts and findings, usually as a basis for recommendations; written for a specific readership, and probably intended to be kept as a record. In addition, the investigative report represents in writing a statement of the allegations, the findings of the Investigator, and a statement of conclusions drawn from the investigation. Organization, conciseness, clarity, and accuracy are the hallmarks of a good report. The written report will represent all relevant aspects of the investigation and be objective, accurate, understandable, logically organized, and timely.

Conciseness: The investigator should remember that the best report tells the complete story in as few words as possible. After preparing the first draft of the report, the investigator may find the need to revise it for the purpose of eliminating redundant or unnecessary phrases or words.

Accuracy: The written report should clearly record or reference all pertinent interviews and observations. Information obtained during an investigation should be verified by as many sources as are necessary and reasonable to establish the validity of the information. Investigative reports should not contain personal opinions or views.

Style: The report should be written objectively in the first person.

End