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1.6.1 Comments and Complaints

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

The young person’s guide to the Children and Families Act 2014 (DfE)

AMENDMENT

This chapter was extensively revised and updated in June 2015 and should be re-read in full.


Contents

  1. Legislative Background
  2. Approach when Service User Expresses Dissatisfaction with the Service
  3. Overview of Complaints Procedures under the Children Act 1989
  4. Stage 1 - Customer Care and Complaints Manager Problem Solving/Informal Resolution
  5. Stage 2 - Formal Investigation
  6. Stage 3 - Review Panel
  7. The Local Government Ombudsman
  8. Settlements/Remedies
  9. Standards and Service Improvement
  10. Complaints involving other Agencies
  11. Links to other Procedures
  12. Roles and Responsibilities
  13. Definitions


1. Legislative Background

Islington Children's Social Care Services has a statutory responsibility to respond to complaints as defined under The Children Act 1989, Representations Procedure (England) Regulations 2006 and taking into consideration the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, and the Adoption and Children Act 2000.

Department for Education: Change for Children sets out the Government's agenda for improving outcomes for every child. This guidance follows the core principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Department for Education: Change for Children which put children's views and wishes at the forefront of the decision-making process. Services must ensure that vulnerable children and young people get the help they need, when they need it, whenever they make a complaint however large or small. A person should not be hindered from accessing the Complaints Procedures because of their disability, race, age or gender.


2. Approach when Service User Expresses Dissatisfaction with the Service

If someone says they are unhappy with their service:

  • Keep an open mind – don’t judge the service user or the complainant • Own the problem and attempt to resolve the problem/dissatisfaction immediately;
  • Avoid passing them on to someone else;
  • Start with the right intentions – don’t try to ‘get rid of’ the complaint, service user or complainant;
  • Be sympathetic (you can agree they have a problem but not necessarily agree that the problem is the Department’s fault);
  • Do not take sides;
  • Do not criticise colleagues or the Department;
  • Repeat back to them what has been said by them;
  • Say sorry that they are upset;
  • Use the opportunity to re-examine and improve service delivery;
  • Keep an eye on the timescale for your response (10 working days from the date the complaint is received).

If the problem cannot be resolved:

  • Say what happens next and explain the complaints procedure to them. Give them a complaints leaflet and go through it with them or give them the contact details of the Customer Care and Complaints Manager. If appropriate, help the service user to make the complaint e.g. if the person is unable to write, then write the complaint for them;
  • If the complainant speaks a language that you don't, make every effort to get their name, address, telephone number and the language they speak. Pass this information to the Complaints Unit and they will make the necessary arrangements;
  • In recording a complaint ask the complainant what is the outcome they are seeking. This may not always be possible to achieve but it helps to clarify the nature of the complaint. (See also acknowledgement);
  • The complainant has the option of sending the complaint to the Customer Care and Complaints Manager or of addressing the complaint to the first line manager of the particular team or service.


3. Overview of Complaints Procedures under the Children Act 1989

  Action Timescale
STAGE 1
Problem Solving/Informal Resolution

Attempt to resolve the Complaint without a formal investigation.

Investigation undertaken by direct line manager; support available from Customer Care and Complaints Manager (1)

Acknowledge receipt of complaint within 2 days

Provide full response within 10 working days

Extension up to 20 working days available for complex cases.

STAGE 2
Formal Investigation

Investigation undertaken by an Independent Investigating Officer and an Independent Person, arranged by the Customer Care and Complaints Manager.

Full response from the Director of Targeted and Specialist Children and Families Services (TSCFS) within 25 working days from acceptance of complaint as having proceeded to Stage 2.

Possible extension of up to a maximum of 65 working days with the agreement of the Customer Care and Complaints Manager.

STAGE 3
Review Panel

If the complainant remains dissatisfied with the Stage 2 complaint response.

Review Panel is convened within 30 working days from receipt of the request.

Review Panel make recommendations to the Director of Children Services within 5 working days of the Review Panel hearing.

Full response from Director of Children Services to the complainant within 15 working days of the Review Panel.

Local Government Ombudsman (LGO)

The complainant is entitled to refer the complaint to the LGO at any time during the complaints process.

However the Department should have been given a reasonable opportunity to address the complaint.

The LGO provides a free, independent service.

Who can complain?

  • Service users (past, current or potential) e.g. children leaving care, potential adopters, parents of looked after children, etc.;
  • Someone acting on behalf of a service user. e.g. relative, friend, advocate etc.;
  • Foster carers (when related to child's welfare);
  • Such other person as the local authority consider has sufficient interest in the child or young person to warrant the representations being considered by them.

Compliments:

The Department is also committed to organisational learning through taking note of when members of the public compliment the Department on the service it has provided. The Complaints Unit receives these compliments, and provides reports to service areas on aspects of the service that have been praised or commended.


4. Stage 1 - Customer Care and Complaints Manager Problem Solving/Informal Resolution

Where a Complaint is received directly by the Customer Care and Complaints Manager s/he will:

  • Acknowledge the complaint in writing within 2 working days;
  • Agree the statement of the full nature of the complaint with the complainant;
  • Clarify the complaint, if necessary arranging to meet the individual. Ensure relevant information is obtained regarding the complainant / the service user (if this is different) / the service that is involved / outline of the complaint;
  • Clarify who is to look into the complaint (normally direct line manager), and inform them of the timescales within which the complainant should expect a response;
  • Ensure the manager responding to the complainant provides a full response to the complainant within 10 working days;
  • Give advice as necessary on looking into the complaint of information required for recording purposes and advise on the response to the complainant;
  • Ensure the complaint is fully documented and correspondence filed.

Complaints received by front-line staff

A Stage 1 Complaint may be received directly by any member of staff. (See approach when service user expresses dissatisfaction) The complaint has equal importance as one received directly by the Customer Care and Complaints Manager, and the manager has responsibility to:

  • Notify the Customer Care and Complaints Manager that they have received a complaint;
  • Acknowledge the complaint in writing within 2 working days;
  • Look into the complaint, seeking to resolve problems asking for procedural guidance from the Customer Care and Complaints Manager as necessary;
  • Send a draft of the response letter to the Customer Care and Complaints Manager and if necessary, amend the draft based on advice received;
  • Provide a final written response to the complainant within 10 working days setting out the findings of the Stage 1 problem solving/informal resolution process;
  • Notify the Customer Care and Complaints Manager of the outcome of complaint and of the time taken to provide the response;
  • Notify the Customer Care and Complaints Manager of any ‘lessons learnt from the complaint' for the Department, which have been identified as part of the complaint investigation;
  • Ensure the complaint is fully documented and correspondence filed.

Where the line manager is directly involved in the issues referred to in the complaint, the manager will need to seek advice from the Customer Care and Complaints Manager and identify another manager to consider and respond to the complainant.

Extension

Where a complete response cannot be provided within the timescale a further 10 working days extension can be agreed. If necessary, the local authority may also suspend Stage 1 until an Advocate has been appointed to support the complainant. The maximum amount of time that Stage 1 should take is 20 working days. After this deadline the complainant can request consideration at Stage 2 if s/he so wishes.

If the complainant is dissatisfied with the Stage 1 response, s/he has the right to request a Stage 2 - Formal Investigation within 20 working days of receiving the response.

Summary Stage 1

Click here to view the Summary Stage 1 flowchart.

In addition:

A complainant may withdraw a complaint at any time during the complaints process.

There may be some circumstances where a complaint may be suspended.

Where a complainant is complaining about a decision, it is maybe appropriate to freeze (delay) implementing that decision until the outcome of the complaint is known.

There may still be grounds to investigate complaints that are received anonymously.

In certain circumstances, is may be appropriate to decide not to investigate the complaint.


5. Stage 2 - Formal Investigation

Stage 2 – Formal Investigation will normally follow the conclusion of the Stage 1 – Problem Solving/Informal Resolution stage.

The complainant has the right to contact the Customer Care and Complaints Manager to request a Stage 2 – Formal Investigation.

(The Customer Care and Complaints Manager may also consider it appropriate to instigate a Formal Investigation under Stage 2 of the complaints procedure, bypassing Stage 1.

Where a Stage 2 – Formal Investigation is requested:

  • The Customer Care and Complaints Manager must ensure that the details of the complaint and the complainant’s desired outcome are recorded in writing and agreed with the complainant. This may be achieved either by correspondence or by meeting the complainant to discuss the detail of complaint, followed by a written record of what was agreed. S/he may wish to do this in conjunction with the Investigating Officer and Independent Person appointed to conduct the Stage 2 complaint investigation;
  • The Customer Care and Complaints Manager will appoint an independent Investigating Officer (IO);
  • The Customer Care and Complaints Manager will appoint an Independent Person (IP);
  • The Customer Care and Complaints Manager will liaise with the IO and the IP to pass relevant information and to clarify roles and responsibilities;
  • The Customer Care and Complaints Manager will acknowledge the Stage 2 – Formal Investigation request, informing the complainant of the people involved in the investigation;
  • The Customer Care and Complaints Manager will give advice throughout the investigation and give advice on the reports to be prepared by the IO and IP;
  • Once the IO and IP reports have been prepared and submitted to the Customer Care and Complaints Manager, they will be forwarded to the Adjudicating Officer;
  • he Adjudicating Officer may wish to meet the Customer Care and Complaints Manager, IO and IP, to clarify any aspects of the reports;
  • The response to the complainant should be made within 25 working days of the request to proceed to Stage 2 by the Adjudication Officer. This response should establish whether the complaint was upheld, partly upheld, not upheld or inconclusive;
  • Where they remain dissatisfied with the response;
  • The response will also inform the complainant of their right to ask for their complaint to be considered at Stage 3 - Review Panel, providing they request this within 20 working days;
  • Where it is not possible to complete the investigation within 25 working days, the Stage 2 timescale may be extended to a maximum of 65 working days. All extensions should be agreed by the Customer Care and Complaints Manager. The complainant should be informed of the reasons for the delay and a date for completion in writing;
  • Where the complaint refers to a service commissioned by the Council e.g. purchased foster care placement, there will be an expectation that the agency undertakes an investigation and provide a written report, which complies with the standards of national regulations. The IP will be appointed by the Council.

Summary of Stage 2

Complainant request Stage 2
Clarification of complaint
Acknowledgement within 2 working days by the Customer Care and Complaints Manager
Allocation of IO and IP
Customer Care and Complaints Manager liaises with IO and IP

IO and IP meet complainant to agree terms of reference i.e. Statement of Complaint and desired outcomes.

Explore possibilities of resolution
Formal investigation
IO sends draft report to Customer Care and Complaints Manager and IP
IP sends report to Customer Care and Complaints Manager
Customer Care and Complaints Manager sends IO and IP reports to the Adjudicating Officer
Customer Care and Complaints Manager sends response from Adjudicating Officer, with the reports from IO and IP and information about Stage 3 – Review Panel within the agreed timescale.


6. Stage 3 - Review Panel

If the complainant remains dissatisfied with the response of the Department, and contacts the Complaints Unit within 20 working days of being notified of the outcome of the Stage 2 – Formal Investigation, and wishes the matter to be referred to a Review Panel for consideration stating his/her reasons for this request, the Customer Care and Complaints Manager will make arrangements for the Review Panel to be convened within 30 working days of the request.

The Review Panel will consist of three independent people who do not work (or have not worked in the last 3 years) for Islington Council.

Good practice would dictate that consideration be given to panel members being of an appropriate gender and ethnic balance, with consideration of any special needs of the complainant.

When the Review Panel meets, it will consider:

  1. Oral or written statements from the complainant;
  2. Oral or written statements from the Adjudicating Officer and Investigating Officer;
  3. Oral or written statements from the Independent Person involved in the Stage 2 – Formal Investigation;
  4. Oral or written statements from any other person considered to have sufficient interest in the case.

The complainant is entitled to attend the meeting of the Review Panel, and may be accompanied by a support person or advocate, who can be nominated to speak on the complainant's behalf.

Within 5 working days of the conclusion of the Review Panel, the members of the Review Panel must decide upon their recommendations and produce a report.

The Customer Care and Complaints Manager will ensure that the complainant, Director of Children Services, the Adjudicating Officer, Investigating Officer and Independent Person receive copies of the Review Panel's report.

The Director of Children Services must consider what action should be taken in relation to the complaint in the light of the recommendations made by the Review Panel.

The Director of Children Services will ensure that a written response to the complainant is made within 15 working days of receiving the Review Panel report.

The response should advise the complainant that they may refer the matter to the Local Government Ombudsman should they remain dissatisfied.

Summary Stage 3

Complainant request Stage 3 – Review Panel
Request by complainant within 20 working days of receiving the Stage 2 complaint response stating the reasons why s/he wants to proceed to Stage 3 – Review Panel.
Customer Care and Complaints Manager organises the Review Panel within 30 working days
Review Panel sends report to Director of Children Services within 5 working days
Director of Children Services sends response to the complainant within 15 working days


7. The Local Government Ombudsman

The Local Government Ombudsman is completely independent of Council procedures.

If the complainant remains dissatisfied with the decision, they may contact the Local Government Ombudsman who can decide whether to investigate a complaint where it is alleged that there has been maladministration which has caused an injustice. The Local Government Ombudsman will not normally investigate a complaint which has not first been considered under either the Department's or the Council's complaints procedures.

However the Ombudsman will consider the following exceptions amongst others:

  • Complaints where there has been unreasonable delay by the council in processing the complaint;
  • Complaints made by children and young people, up to the age of 21 or 25 if disabled.

Where the Local Government Ombudsman decides that it is appropriate for an investigation to take place, notice is given to the Chief Executive. The complaint is then forwarded to the Departmental Liaison Officer who has responsibility for coordinating responses on behalf of the Department.

In cases where the complaint is against Children's Social Care, the Customer Care and Complaints Manager will ensure that the necessary information is provided so that a response can be made to the Local Government Ombudsman within the allocated timescale.

At any stage the Local Government Ombudsman may discontinue involvement in the complaint. In the majority of cases a decision is reached once the Council's comments have been provided. A letter explaining the Local Government Ombudsman's reasons for not pursuing the complaint further is sent to the complainant and the Council.

In a small number of cases, the Local Government Ombudsman may wish to interview officers of the Council with involvement in the complaint, or require access to any relevant files or documentation. (The Local Government Ombudsman has the same right of access to information as the High Court).

When an investigation has taken place the Local Government Ombudsman may, if considered appropriate, prepare a draft report of key issues which is circulated to the Council and complainant and any involved third parties involved and, considering any comments, a formal report is then issued (an announcement is made in the press and the report is made available for public inspection for a period of three weeks - although the Council is named, the real names of individuals are not used in the report. Where the Local Government Ombudsman has found maladministration causing injustice, the Council must consider the report and advise the Local Government Ombudsman of the action it has taken or proposes to take.

Early Referral to the Local Government Ombudsman:

A complaint could be referred directly to the Local Government Ombudsman after a Stage 2 – Formal Investigation when:

  • There is very robust IO and IP report;
  • A complete Stage 2 – Formal Investigation adjudication has taken place•The outcome of all the complaints investigated has been upheld (or all significant complaints relating to service delivery in respect of the qualifying individual);
  • The Department is providing a clear action plan for delivery; and
  • The Department agrees to meet the majority or all of the desired outcomes presented by the complainant regarding social services functions.

Where this is the case, and the complainant agrees, the Customer Care and Complaints Manager may approach the Local Government Ombudsman and ask him/her to consider the complaint directly, without first going through Stage 3 - Review Panel.

8. Settlements/Remedies

At any stage of a complaint the Department may accept that a complaint was justified, the complainant suffered injustice and that the complainant is entitled to a 'remedy'.

Section 92 of the Local Government Act 2000 confirms that Councils are empowered to remedy 'injustice arising from maladministration' without having to wait for the involvement of the Local Government Ombudsman.

The object of a settlement/remedy is to put the complainant back into the position he or she would have been in but for the fault. The Department must ensure consistency and fairness in dealing with cases, whilst recognising that each case needs to be considered on its own merits. The Department must be clear that the injustice was caused by the consequences of its maladministration. The remedy must be appropriate and proportionate to the injustice and may include one or more of the following:

In some cases an apology is all that is required by way of a remedy.

In some cases an outcome of the complaint is to review specific practice, procedure or policy (the complainant should normally be informed where this is the case).

In some cases specific actions will be required as part or all of the remedy.

In other cases it will be appropriate for the Department to consider the payment of financial compensation either for direct loss and/or for distress caused. The Customer Care and Complaints Manager will advise on appropriate levels of compensation.


9. Standards and Service Improvement

Learning from Complaints - Ensuring Service Improvement

Compliance with the complaints procedure allows the service to consider and then make improvements to service delivery. In this way the Department seeks to avoid wherever possible similar problems/service deficiencies occurring in the future.

Managers investigating any complaint must consider whether there is are any lessons that can be learnt by the Department arising from the investigation. The Stage 1 investigating manager will discuss lessons learnt with the Customer Care and Complaints Manager.

Recommendations are to be recorded by the Customer Care and Complaints Manager who will ensure they are reported to the relevant Heads of Service. Each Head of Service will confirm their intention to address the issue, and allocate a lead officer responsible for implementation.

Improvements to service as a result of complaints upheld or partially upheld will be reported as part of the Annual Report on complaints.

Monitoring Standards

The ability of the Department to address complaints within the timescales specified within the procedures will be monitored on a monthly basis and a half-yearly report prepared for the Children's Social Care Management Team.

Annual Report

An Annual Report of the Department’s ability to respond to complaints will be prepared, which will be available to Elected Members, staff and the general public.


10. Complaints involving other Agencies

Complaints received about a service provided by another Agency

Where the Department has received a complaint in relation to another agency which is providing a service on behalf of the Department, the Customer Care and Complaints Manager has a responsibility to notify the agency and pass on the complaint. In these circumstances the Department will seek confirmation that the complaint was fully investigated by the other agency.

Complaints received by other Departments

Where another Department receives a complaint referring to Children's Social Care Services this should be forwarded by them to the Customer Care and Complaints Manager as promptly as possible. All response times to the complainant are based on the first date on which the Council received the complaint.

Complaints received from another Agency

When a complaint is received from another organisation e.g. school the Customer Care and Complaints Manager will refer it to the manager of the appropriate team to deal with outside this procedure.

Complaints received which refer to more than one Department / Agency.

Where a complaint received refers to more than one department of the Council the Customer Care and Complaints Manager will ensure that there is a named officer responsible for coordinating the response to the complainant.


11. Links to other Procedures

Member enquiries

Where a MP or local councillor contacts the Department to enquire about an issue, this normally is dealt with outside of the complaints procedures. However, where the most appropriate course of action is to refer the issue to the Customer Care and Complaints Manager, the MP or councillor will be informed that this is the course of action to be taken.

Employee complaints

The complaints procedure does not address employee complaints. Employees have recourse through the employee grievance procedures via HR.

Internal complaints

The Social Services Complaints Procedure is not the appropriate procedure to deal with disputes between departments.

Management investigations

When a complaint raises a management concern that leads to a management investigation, the Complainant must be informed that the complaint is being addressed through a management investigation. The Customer Care and Complaints Manager will respond to the complainant, and advise on the information that will be disclosed to them.

Police investigation

Where the complaint leads to police involvement, the Customer Care and Complaints Manager will consider whether it would be appropriate to suspend the complaint process, e.g. where the complaint investigation may impede or hinder Police action, and will keep the complainant informed.

Child Protection

Where consideration of a complaint leads to concerns about the welfare of children, these should be referred immediately to the Quality and Safeguarding Service and/or the Police. The handling of any associated complaint can be suspended if necessary.

Unreasonably persistent complainants

If the complainant is persisting because his complaints have not been considered in full then the local authority must address this (normally by invoking the next stage). However, if the authority has already done so and has demonstrated this to the complainant, then the Customer Care and Complaints Manager should consider whether the complainant is now inappropriately persistent. The following guidance should only be pursued where absolutely necessary.

Persistent complainants
Unreasonably Persistent complainants

Action in response

Where the relationship becomes unworkable, the Customer Care and Complaints Manager should ensure that s/he demonstrates that s/he has considered the complaints as fully as is appropriate. This should normally be through advising the complainant that:

  • He does not constitute a person who may complain and/or that his complaints do not fall within the relevant criteria for what may be complained about;
  • The Council has either offered or provided consideration of the issues through another procedure e.g. the corporate complaints procedure;
  • The Council will consider the substantive issues at all stages of the complaints procedure; or
  • The matters raised are not sufficiently different to justify being considered as a new complaint.

Where the Council has attempted to move the complaint on to the next stage but the complainant has either refused or delayed such progression through excessive objection to the process rather than addressing the substantive issues of the complaint themselves, the Council will advise the complainant that this is causing delay and is an unreasonable use of the complaints procedure.

In some instances, abusive, threatening or other unreasonable behaviour may be a feature of the complainant's health condition or mental illness e.g. chronic anxiety. In such cases, if possible, the Council will consider securing a whole case review from all professionals involved. The Council may refer to the Mental Capacity Act.

In all cases where the Customer Care and Complaints Manager decides to treat someone as an unreasonably persistent complainant, s/he will write to tell the complainant why s/he believes his behaviour falls into that category, what action s/he is taking and the duration of that action. S/he will also inform the complainant how he can challenge the decision if he disagrees with it. This will normally include information regarding the Local Government Ombudsman.

Where a complaint is closed and the complainant persists in communicating about it, the Customer Care and Complaints Manager may decide to terminate contact with the complainant.


12. Roles and Responsibilities

Children's Social Care Customer Care and Complaints Manager responsibility at Stage 1 – Problem Solving/Informal Resolution

The Children's Social Care Customer Care and Complaints Manager is responsible for:

  • Coordination of the complaints procedure;
  • Ensuring advocacy services are explained, offered and provided when required for children and young people;
  • Agreeing the Statement of a Complaint;
  • Ensuring everyone involved in responding to a complaint is familiar with the complaints procedure;
  • Identifying any special issues/needs that would need to be accommodated to address and respond fully to the complaint;
  • Liaising with senior managers on aspects of the complaint, including designating managers to respond to complaints on behalf of Social Services;
  • Liaising with other agencies or Departments as necessary - e.g. Legal Services, Corporate Complaints Team, solicitors.

Children's Social Care Customer Care and Complaints Manager responsibility at Stage 2 – Formal Investigation

  • Identifying and appointing independent Investigating Officers and Independent Persons where necessary to meet the requirements of the complaints procedure.

Children's Social Care Customer Care and Complaints Manager general responsibilities

  • Provide advice to members of the public, including information in writing;
  • Provide advice on good practice to Children Social Care staff;
  • Ensure that procedures are undertaken within the time scales specified;
  • Ensure adequate records are maintained;
  • Ensure standards of responding to complaints are maintained;
  • Monitor and report on performance and issues for service improvement;
  • Compile the complaint Annual Report and such other reports as required;
  • Provide training to managers involved in dealing with complaints.

Stage 2 Adjudication Officer

The Adjudicating Officer will consider the complaints, the findings, conclusions, and recommendations within the IO report and any report from the IP, together with the complainant’s desired outcomes.

This will normally be the Director of TSCFS, Head of Service or an Operational Manager.

Stage 2 Investigating Officer

The Stage 2 Investigating Officer is someone from outside the Council with sufficient understanding and knowledge of Social Services and of the statutory social care complaints procedure. Who has the skills and knowledge to give a full and independent consideration of the complaint and lead in conducting the investigation:

  • Providing a comprehensive, open, transparent and fair consideration of the complaint through:
    • Sensitive and thorough interviewing of the complainant, clarifying the complaint with the complainant, and the desired outcomes;
  • Produce an agreed Statement of Complaint with the complainant;
    • Consideration of social work records and other relevant information, paper and electronic;
    • Establishing the facts of the case, and exam relevant legislation, procedures, policy, and Protocol;
    • Interview members of staff and other people relevant to the complaint; and analyse the information.
  • Prepare a report of the investigation in a clear, plain English, which addresses the complaints agreed in the Statement of Complaint;
  • Liaise effectively with the complainant, or his/her advocate, the Independent Person and the Customer Care and Complaints Manager as necessary;
  • Have the service user at the centre of the investigation;
  • Negotiate timescales with the complainant, bearing in mind the statutory timescales, and keeping the complainant informed throughout the investigation;
  • Look for points of resolution throughout the investigation and, recommend appropriate action;
  • Provide a written report to the the Customer Care and Complaints Manager for the Stage 2 Adjudicating Officer, which includes recommendations for action to be taken, suggestions for resolution and areas of good practice, within the statutory timescales.

Stage 2 Independent Person

The Stage 2 Independent Person is someone from outside of the Council, with sufficient understanding and knowledge of Social Services and of the statutory social care complaints procedure to give a full and independent opinion of the complaint. The role of the Independent Person is to introduce an objective view to the investigation.

The Independent Person is required to:

  • Ensure the service user’s best interests/welfare is at the centre of the investigation;
  • Work cooperatively with the Stage 2 Investigating Officer;
  • Ensure the process of investigation is open, transparent and fair;
  • Comment on the speed, thoroughness and fairness of the investigation;
  • Find out all the facts relating to the complaint, by being actively involved in all meetings, discussions and interviews, together with the Stage 2 Investigating Officer. Undertake additional interviews as necessary and have access to all relevant documentation to obtain an independent view;
  • Provide a clear, objective written report based upon the evidence, with recommendations for action and resolution and suggest improvements to methods of working in plain English.


13. Definitions

Representations

A representation may be regarded as a comment, enquiry or statement of a formal nature regarding matters such as the availability, delivery or nature of services. They will not necessarily be critical. They can be taken into account when assessing the quality of a service provided, but are not usually viewed as a complaint. They may be critical but the service user does not wish to go through the complaints procedure. E.g. Children and young people should be able to put forward ideas or proposals about the service they receive without having this framed as a complaint.

Compliments

The Department is committed to organisational learning through taking note of when children, young people, their family, carers and members of the public incl. judges, partner agencies etc. compliment the service received. The Customer Care and Complaints Manager should be sent all compliments, and will provide reports to service areas on aspects of the service that have been praised or commended.

Acknowledgement:

An acknowledgement must be sent to the complainant in writing within 2 working days. It should:

  • Confirm the nature of the complaint;
  • Confirm the desired outcome, as expressed by the complainant;
  • Confirm who will be investigating and responding to the complaint;
  • Confirm timescales within which the complainant should expect a full response;
  • Provide contact details of the Customer Care and Complaints Manager.

A face to face may be required with the complainant to ensure that all these elements are covered.

When it is not possible to cover all elements within two days, a basic acknowledgement must be sent and further details communicated in writing as soon as possible.

Withdrawal of a Complaint

An individual can withdraw a complaint at any time. The manager investigating the complaint will notify the Customer Care and Complaints Manager of the complainant's intention. The Customer Care and Complaints Manager will acknowledge the withdrawal in writing.

Suspension of a Complaint

There are a number of circumstances where the complaint may be suspended e.g. at the individual's request, where at risk of prejudicing Court or Police proceedings or management investigations. In all cases the complainant must be notified of a decision to suspend, and it should be made clear in what circumstances the complaint will continue to be addressed.

Frozen Decision

If the complaint is about a proposed change to a care plan, a placement or a service, the decision may need to be deferred (frozen) until the complaint is considered. Care should be taken if deferring a decision is likely to have a significant effect upon the mental or physical wellbeing of an individual.

The decision to defer should normally be made through detailed discussion and risk assessment between the Customer Care and Complaints Manager and the manager responsible for the service, within the context of the work being undertaken with the child or young person. Decisions need to be made on a case-by-case basis, but there should generally be a presumption in favour of freezing, unless there is a good reason against it, e.g., if leaving a child or young person where they are would put them at risk. In cases where decisions are met with opposing views, advice should be sought from the Director of TSCFS.

Decision not to investigate

There is a presumption in favour of accepting complaints. However, where a complaint is made more than one year after the grounds to make the complaint arose and the complainant was capable of making the complaint earlier, or where there is now not sufficient access to information or individuals involved at the time to carry out a fair investigation, the Council may decline to investigate, but will provide the complainant with the reasons not to proceed.

Stage 2 Complaint - Formal Complaint

A Stage 2 complaint is investigated by an independent Investigating Officer. The investigation is undertaken with an Independent Person. Each investigator provides the Adjudicating Officer with a report. On the basis of the reports the Adjudicating Officer provides a response to the complainant.

Annual Report

An Annual Report - 1 April – 31 March, is prepared by the Customer Care and Complaints Manager, covering:

  • Representations received throughout the year;
  • The number of complaints at each stage and any that were considered by the Local Government Ombudsman received;
  • Who made the complaints;
  • The types of complaints made;
  • The outcome of complaints;
  • Details about advocacy services provided under these arrangements;
  • Compliance with timescales, and complaints resolved within extended timescale as agreed;
  • Learning and service improvement, including changes to services that have been implemented and details of any that have not been implemented;
  • A summary of statistical data about the age, gender, disability, sexual orientation and ethnicity of complainants;
  • A review of the effectiveness of the complaints procedure.

Persistent complainants

  • A person who makes the same complaint with minor differences repeatedly, but never accepts the outcome;
  • A person who seeks an unrealistic outcome and persists until it is reached; or
  • A person with a history of making other unreasonably persistent complaints.

Unreasonably persistent complaints

An unreasonably persistent complainant is likely to include some or all of the following:

  • An historic and irreversible decision or incident;
  • Frequent, lengthy, complicated and stressful contact with members of staff;
  • Aggressive, verbally abusive and/or threatening manner towards members of staff;
  • Change aspects of the complaint partway through the investigation or Review Panel;
  • Make and break contact with the Council on an on-going basis; and
  • Persistently approach the Council through different routes about the same issue in the hope of getting different responses.

The complainant should receive the same standard of response as any other service user, and the Department should be able to demonstrate that it has not discriminated against the persistent complainant.

If the situation is challenging but it is possible to proceed, staff should avoid giving unrealistic expectations on the outcome of the complaint.

Restricting access

The decision to restrict access to the statutory social care complaints procedure should be taken by the Customer Care and Complaints Manager and should follow a prior warning to the complainant. Any restrictions imposed should be appropriate and proportionate. The options that the Customer Care and Complaints Manager will consider is to:

  • Request contact in a particular format e.g. letters only;
  • Require contact to take place with a named officer;
  • Restrict telephone calls to specific days and times;
  • Ask that the complainant to enter into an agreement about any future contact with the Department; and
  • Inform the complainant that if s/he does not cooperate with the advice given, any further correspondence that does not present significant new matters or new information will not be acknowledged, but will be kept on file.

Any new complaints from people who come under this policy should be treated on their individual merits.

In extreme cases, the Council may consider the following actions:

  • Referring the complainant to the Local Government Ombudsman before the complaints procedure has been exhausted (see Annex 3); or
  • Advising the complainant that it cannot assist any further and inform s/he of their right to approach the Local Government Ombudsman.

The distinction between the two options above is that Early Referral to the Local Government Ombudsman is a positive action that can only be undertaken in agreement between the Department and the complainant. This is therefore the less likely option with persistent complainants.

Option 2 may arise where the Department does not agree with the complainant that the complaints are substantively valid and the two parties disagree on the way forward. This is more likely with a persistent complainant. Should the Department take this option, it will not contact the Local Government Ombudsman directly, but will indicate to the complainant that s/he may make this approach. The Department will confirm to the complainant that it is not responding to the matters raised within the complaint any further.

The Local Government Ombudsman is likely to apply the test of reasonableness over the Department’s response in a similar manner to an Early Referral and will have a range of options open to him.

End