How to complain

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Douglas Silas’s tips on complaining to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (previously called the Local Government Ombudsman) is a free and independent body that investigates complaints about Local Authorities (LAs) and other public service organisations. They look at whether organisations have made decisions in the right way.  

Once you have complained, the Ombudsman first looks at your complaint to check if they can investigate. If they can, they then allocate someone to investigate your complaint and, if it is serious enough to justify an investigation, they ask you/the LA/the organisation, for more information.

After this, if they decide that the organisation is at fault and you have suffered injustice because of it, they recommend how things should be put right for you and possibly also other people in the same situation.  

Theoretically. The LGSCO investigates complaints about SEN where public bodies like LAs have acted with ‘maladministration leading to injustice’. This is if LAs did not do what they were supposed to do and it has caused unfairness; for example, an LA has: 

  • delayed assessing an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) 
  • delayed issuing an EHCP
  • failed to implement an EHCP 
  • failed to carry out legal duties (like conducting an Annual Review).

However, with SEN, the law generally prevents the Ombudsman investigating complaints where a remedy is available through an appeal to the SEND Tribunal. For example, they cannot question a LA’s decision not to assess a child for an EHCP, as this can be appealed.

The Ombudsman cannot look ‘beyond the school gates’. However, if a child has an EHCP, the LA has to work with the school to ensure the child gets the provision in the EHCP, so the Ombudsman sometimes looks at the school’s role in delivering provision, as well the LAs. For example, if somebody complains about the LA failing to arrange and maintain specified provision, the Ombudsman can look at this, but can only make findings about the LA and not the school. It can look at LA duties, like school transport, school admissions, school exclusions (after independent reviews) and education otherwise than at school, but it is limited to looking at complaints about what happens in maintained schools.  

Also, academy and private schools operate independently of LAs, so the Ombudsman cannot look at complaints about them. This can be extremely frustrating for parents who want to complain about an academy or private school, where they feel its headteacher or governing body is not entirely independent.

How to make a complaint

There is a complaint form on the Ombudsman’s website at www.lgo.org.uk. You must make a complaint within twelve months of being aware of the matter and you need to show how the organisation you are complaining about did you wrong and had a significant impact on you (ie ‘personal injustice’).  

You must complete the organisation’s complaints process first and not be satisfied with its response, before you can complain to the Ombudsman.  However, if you have complained but have not had a response within reasonable time, you can complain to the Ombudsman who asks the organisation about your complaint first.  

Decisions are published on the Ombudsman’s website (unless the Ombudsman decides it is not in your best interest to do this), six weeks after the date of the decision, but does not usually reveal the identity of people involved.

Douglas Silas
Author: Douglas Silas

Douglas Silas
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Specialist SEN solicitor Douglas Silas is the Managing Director of Douglas Silas Solicitors.
W: SpecialEducationalNeeds.co.uk
T: @douglassilas
F: @douglassilas

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