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Birmingham to change complaints process following Ombudsman report

Birmingham City Council has agreed to revisit the way it responds to complaints about respite care for children with disabilities after it wrongly told families to appeal to the Ombudsman.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) became concerned that the council and Birmingham Children's Trust were sending parents directly to its office to appeal the number of hours they were to receive for respite care, instead of responding to their concerns through the statutory Children’s Complaints Procedure.

The Ombudsman has made it clear to the council that it is not an appeals body.

The message was given to the council after a mother complained to LGSCO about the way the council handled her complaints about the respite it awarded for her teenaged son, who has challenging behaviour, autism, anxiety and communication difficulties.

Instead of dealing with the mother’s complaint through the statutory three-stage complaints process, it instead directed the mother to have her appeal “further reviewed by the LGO”.

During the investigation, the Ombudsman found 27 other families had been wrongly told to appeal to the LGSCO in the past year alone.

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

“The LGSCO looks at complaints about councils and care providers once those complaints have been through the local complaints process. We are not an appeals body, or a tribunal. It is not – and has never been in our near 50 years of existence – our role to decide how much respite parents should receive. 

“I am concerned about the council’s lack of understanding of our role, and of its own duties under the statutory complaints procedure. By directing parents to my office instead of dealing with their complaints properly, the council has denied many families the opportunity to have their concerns looked at in the right way.

“I am pleased the council has accepted my recommendations and is already working to put in place an amended policy and appeals process to ensure any future complaints it receives are handled properly.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman remedies injustice and shares learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the mother and explain why and how the panel reached its decision. It will also pay her £500 to acknowledge the time and trouble and uncertainty caused.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council will now tell people who applied to the appeals panel since April 2021 that, if they are unhappy with the outcome of the panel decision, they can complain to the council under the statutory procedure.

It will also amend its complaints policy and appeals process to ensure those who raise complaints about children’s services have the opportunity to use the statutory complaints procedure.

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