Complaints against a public body – a parent’s advice and perspective

We are grateful for the comments of one of our readers ‘C’  who has not had a good experience of social work intervention, nor found that his complaint was dealt with either quickly or competently. He eventually took his complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman and found their response unhelpful. What happens when you have reached the end of the complaints process but you still don’t think you have achieved resolution of your complaint?

For discussion of the various legal remedies against mistakes or poor performance of a public body, see this post. 

When bad mistakes have been made, a kind of bureaucratic protectionism kicks in.

What can you do when things go wrong?

One of the greatest inhibitors in terms of application for Judicial Review is that the decision must almost always be challenged within 90 days – otherwise the judge may rule you out of time.

Individual social workers or hospital professionals registered with Health and Care Professions Council can be investigated by them for malpractice. All members have a duty to follow a code of ethics. So it is worth pursuing things there.

With regard to Freedom Of Information requests,  I would discuss the best way forward here, with the Information Commissioner’s Office. There are exemptions to your receiving personal information but these can be considered and overruled by the  (ICO).

If names were altered  and logged inaccurately, etc. then these are breaches of the Data Protection Act  which the ICO are supposed to police. They are toothless and pettifogging… but if you persist and manage to drill your way through to the upper levels of management, you can get a more sympathetic ear as they are interested in any cases of flagrant data injustice which might end up in them getting stronger powers in data protection from the government. You can sometimes get access to Data Subject Access Request information that is exempted, if the data may be required for future legal proceedings.

Contact the ICO on 0303 123 1113 and open a case with them. Press them to investigate it. Copy everything to your MP. [The professionals] will not want to appear uncompliant in the eyes of the ICO as the ICO is able to hand out hefty fines to corporate bodies. Force them to acknowledge your issue.

Do your best to be clear and concise in your dealings with these people. Remember they are dealing with this stuff all day, every day… and have limited patience for your emotion. Even though of course your outrage is entirely justified, it may just become an extra burden for them – and thus hamper your progress.


Why do things go so wrong?

In terms of [descrbing professionals as]  lying, cheating and betraying – I realise that it is more likely unconscious, systematised behaviour and so defining it as lying, cheating and betraying may be pejorative. It is inept in the sense that a broken food processer throws food all over the room.  The result is a mess: the solution is to fix the processor. Or to throw it out and go back to chewing.

Isn’t simple human error still misfeasance, when those errors represent breaches in frameworks that they are supposed to comprehend and follow?

I see  how chronic ineptness can be portrayed as simple human error, and is not necessarily ‘conscious’. Mind you, being in a stupor is no defence when driving – so it is difficult to appreciate why it should be admissible when administering the law..


And what are the consequences?

The experience of ‘C’ has been that the available remedies are either subject to strict timescales or depend on being able to prove bad faith on the part of professionals, which is difficult to do.

This is a steep track to negotiate with limited funds. It ain’t justice as anyone unaccustomed to bureaucratic process and unlimited time to play with other peoples lives and money, would recognise.

And the consequences are the destruction of any constructive professional relationship and a sense of despair for the parents left without a remedy.

I think bitterness at injustice and lack of closure makes one deaf to rational argument. It is somewhat remarkable that [some parents are] still exploring legal routes, and not investigating home bomb-making, or kidnapping strategies…

As for being a victim, the unfortunate truth of post-capitalism, is everywhere that you pay with your attention. In my complaint, I have helped justify their existence, improved their systems of control, and helped guarantee their salaries. There is no comfort in that.

My heart goes out to [families in a similar position]  – and I fear for them. They seem distorted by unassuageable pain. Whatever the justice of their case, or the LA’s actions, the fruits are only bitterness and despair for everyone except those employed to purvey the misery, and uphold the myth of adversarial justice.


8 thoughts on “Complaints against a public body – a parent’s advice and perspective

  1. C

    Thank you Sarah, for quoting my frustration so comprehensively, and not sugaring the unfortunate truth that it may well not be worth it to complain. The complaints process as used by Local Authorities is not ‘expeditious’ as the Complaints Statutory Guidance says it should be: it is manipulated in such a way as to exhaust and demoralise the complainant. Be prepared for a war of attrition. The Dfe, who are supposed to police the Complaints framework, don’t. They say it was written a long time ago ( 2006) by another administration, and nobody monitors it anymore. They recommend speaking to the LGO – who recommend speaking to the Dfe. (Deaf might be a more suitable acronym.)
    That said, anyone considering a complaint is well advised to download the Statutory guidance (available here –, read it thoroughly, highlight anything relevant, and be ready to quote it chapter and verse. It is the frame your complaint is supposed to follow – even though it probably won’t.
    Anything beyond the bounds of the Statutory guidance that is initiated by Socalled Care, view with extreme suspicion. For instance, in our case, at Stage 2 ( after Stage One had been running for 4 months, not the maximum 20 days allowed by the guidance) we were told that the complaint could only go ahead if we were prepared to sign a Terms of Reference document for the complaint. We did this, though it is not mentioned anywhere in the Guidance. They then ruled all sorts of things – for instance, their own procedural guidelines – as not part of the complaint, because they were not specifically mentioned in the T.O.R. My advice would be go into the complaints process with a lawyer. They advise you not to, saying the process is about mediation and resolution, not adversary. But in our experience the only part of Social Care that seems to operate with unlimited resources is their Complaints defence; we were told by the supposedly ‘independent person’, who follows and monitors the complaint, that the TOR is not intended to be a legal document, and that precise wording is not important.

    To quote a solicitor speaking to us about our process: ‘It is never a good idea to take the advice of your enemy’.

    …And make no mistake: they are all the enemy, including, especially the Independent Person. He/She will be their ringer.

    From this follows another piece of advice: Record everything they say. Keep every scrap of paper.
    And never write anything other than neutral, legal-sounding, assiduously polite responses to anything they send. Our I.P. collated 92 of our comments that he considered inappropriate and sent them to the LGO as proof we were ‘vexatious’.

    Here is number 92 collected nine months into the investigation:
    …the tenor of the investigation has meant that I have been forced to check every detail that CSC presented, or else accept tendentious interpretations, wilful misinterpretations, and duplicity’.

    As you can see, I was being really abusive!

    Here is a quote from one of the I.P’s final reports:

    Our complaint was: The advisor did not ask the caller if the parents had been informed about the decision to contact …. despite the call being to ask for advice on how best to broach the issues with the parents, and there being a section for that precise purpose on the form.

    He wrote: Investigation outcome – I agree with the I.O. discussion and analysis of this
    complaint and the recommendation to Adjudication – not upheld
    And commented: I.P. viewpoint – Stage 1 enquiries and the investigation at Stage 2 have both
    acknowledged that the advisor did not directly ask if the parents had been informed about the decision to contact – as phrased in the TOR point – and it is clear from the investigation that the parents did
    not know of this referral. At the risk of appearing pedantic, the TOR should have been phrased more specifically – i.e. by adding perhaps ‘… as required to do so’.

    This is one example of many of a tendency best paraphrased by the Adjudicator. When overruling a section of the complaint that had actually been upheld by the Investigating Officer, he stated surreally:
    It is not a question of whether a complaint is factually correct.

    If anyone does have the stomach to enter a complaints process, and they make contact with Sarah here, I will be happy for her to connect us, and to help/advise if I can. At this point I feel as if I know ‘Getting the Best from Complaints’ and other relevant government Statutory frameworks by heart.

    Re: hcpc. It is truer to write ‘it may be worth pursuing things here…’ since we haven’t yet had any evidence to show that it is not one more means of dragging out process till the narrative thread of the original problem is so thin – all you can do with it is knit a sweater. They have found some people unfit to practice – but the behaviour in those cases appears to have been so disgraceful, that unfitness to practice may be the least of the ex-social workers worries.

    Re: The ICO. They are also long winded and by their own admission toothless. ‘Paper tigers’ is what they said. To enforce any decision they make about data, still requires going to court in almost all cases. Local Authorities are more likely to care what the ICO thinks that private bodies, but neither care much. Any egregious behaviour must be systemic – or so awful that it would give Mephisto pause – before the ICO will issue penalties. Here it may be useful to use Section 8 of the CPR; the danger is that if there is a dispute, then the claim may be bumped to multi track, and if so, the ICO won’t help much. As one solicitor said, ‘Compliance unlikely’ leaves a lot of wriggle room.

    1. Sam

      I have found out that Alternative Dispute Resolution can be used instead of the complaint procedure, but I can’t seem to find a body that deals with local government. Can anyone signpost please? Failing that can anyone signpost an advocate or tell me the approximate cost of a lawyer to help through a complaints procedure, please?

  2. Sam

    I have just had a complaint upheld at stage 1 by the local authority and an apology for any distress caused. This is the first complaint that has actually been sorted out at stage 1. I was amazed. However it was not a complaint against childrens services, it was against another department. So it’s not the local authority who cannot admit they are wrong its just childrens services. I have been lied to by senior management in CS , the process itself has been corrupted and written evidence ignored. Why?
    I think it is similar to how incest victims are ignored, what has happened is so appalling that no one can admit it as it undermines their own stability. Any thoughts?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      It is impossible to offer any sensible comment without seeing your evidence and their evidence. Otherwise all I have is the assertions of one party. Who may – or may not – be utterly truthful and right or may – or may not – be utterly wrong and delusional.

  3. Angelo Granda

    On the other hand , it is quite possible indeed wholly reasonable to pass judgment on the fairness of any complaint inquiry without seeing the evidence of both parties.
    One needs simply to examine carefully whether or not the inquiry has been conducted correctly or not , if not one can take inferences just the same as a Family Court judge may if a parent refuses to reply to a question or fails to cooperate with fair process in any other way.
    We can deduce a lot ,for example,if the LA has not kept to rules and guidelines as to time limits .Did it respond on time or did it take six months? Did it invite you to the office in order to question you and look at your written evidence or did it merely pass the complaint on to the ones about whom you were complaining thus granting them the chance to cover up any malpractice etc?
    If just one guideline was broken, the LA is corrupt on the balance of possibilities!
    Of course,folk often have complaints upheld especially at stage 2 or 3 (after several months or years) but the LA fails to make reparation ,amend its flawed appraisals and care-plans or censure offenders.Neither will it act properly and inform Guardians or inform Courts.That is institutional corruption too.

  4. Sam

    I can give proof, at this point though it is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. I just hope in years to come the public and certainly my children may in the future uncover what actually went on. Though in this society it seems to be more selfish by the day. Perhaps I’m old!

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