All local authorities are required to have a formal complaints process which has 2 or 3 separate stages. You should be able to find the complaints policy or procedure searching your council’s website and they may also have an online complaints form.
You can only go to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman after you have used the formal complaint system. In some cases the only reason to go through the LA’s complaint process is to gain access to the Ombudsman.
A formal complaint can be thought of as complaining ABOUT a service or department rather than TO the service concerned, although you should be aware that the complaint may still be sent to the very people you are complaining about for a response at Stage 1. Don’t be discouraged; at each stage you can keep saying you are not satisfied and asking for it to be escalated to the next stage where there is more independent scrutiny.
Formal complaints can stop you going round in circles and be more effective than complaining directly to a manager or head of department, assuming you can even find the right person. This is because the formal complaint bypasses the usual hierarchy and a complaints policy has rules and deadlines for when the LA must respond. (You can also complain about a complaint taking too long or not being dealt with properly)
Complaints can be simple and may be resolved swiftly because the complaint has reached the right person who is in a position to do something, for example if you are complaining about a payment not having arrived. In this instance you might not need to carry on with the complaint.
Other complaints may be more complicated and less clear-cut and it may take far more time for the local authority even to begin investigating let alone resolving. These cases are also more likely to go through all the council stages and on to the Ombudsman.
You are unlikely to be offered any payment to recognise injustice through the council complaints process alone. For this you will generally need to go to the Ombudsman.
You will need written proof from the council that the formal complaints process has reached the end before the Ombudsman will look at your case.
NB writing to the Director of Children’s Services (or to your MP or councillor) is not the same as making a formal complaint and will not give you a route to the Ombudsman.
The Cerebra Toolkit here is a useful guide if you are facing difficulties with official bodies in trying to access health, social care and education support services.
The Ombudsman website requires you to register before making a complaint. For the complaint itself there are drop down boxes for various options and also free text boxes. The form asks: What is the subject of your complaint [select from drop down list]; What do you think the organisation did wrong?; How has this affected you?; What do you think the organisation should do to put things right?
NB There is a 1000 character limit for the free text questions so I generally advise people to hone their answers first and to use an online character counter to check the limit. You can upload a supporting document which expands on your points but be aware that you are also required to upload the council’s final complaint response already and you need to make sure either that the online form will accept multiple uploads or that you have merged or combined your documents into a single file.
Previous Ombudsman decisions on injustice and remedy are worth reading to get a picture of how it all works and what the Ombudsman can and can’t do. Examples are https://www.lgo.org.uk/decisions/education/alternative-provision and https://www.lgo.org.uk/decisions/education/special-educational-needs The Ombudsman also publishes subject specific guidance on remedies – example here https://www.lgo.org.uk/information-centre/staff-guidance/guidance-on-remedies?chapter=6#Special+Educational+Needs+and+Disabilities+SEND – which explains how payments are worked out eg for each missed month of a service, but usually NOT reimbursing legal advice. Complaints include failure to provide suitable education when a child is unable to attend school; and failings in children’s social care.
Decisions related to special educational needs include delay in issuing EHCPs or carrying out or completing annual reviews including where an EHCP is being amended; failure to deliver special educational provision set out in the EHCP for child out of school (unless elective home education); failure to provide speech therapy as per EHCP; failure to provide education for child out of school on medical grounds (including anxiety). [LGO special educational needs]
My EOTAS page has links to specific Ombudsman decisions regarding section 19 provision for children unable to attend school where you can see the factors taken into account and get an idea of what remedies may be recommended, including payments for loss of provision and symbolic payments for distress, uncertainty, delay, frustration, and time and trouble in making the complaint or chasing the LA.
Complaining via MPs and Local Councillors
To find your local councillor or MP put your postcode here. MPs can ask a question in parliament on your behalf (this is known as a PQ) Your MP can also write to the Chief Executive or the Director of Children’s Services on your behalf, and may be able to put you in touch with the councillor who has responsibility for scrutinising Children’s Services.
Some councillors may write letters on your behalf and they may also be able to suggest a local council committee or panel or other scrutiny body where you can take your concerns. You can go to your local councillor or to a councillor with specific responsibility for the area you are complaining about, which you should be able to find out via your council website if you look for council business/meetings/committees.
NB when drafting emails to councillors and MPs please be aware that these might be forwarded to the person or service you are complaining about.