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London council criticised for poor handling of children’s complaint

A London borough council has been sharply criticised by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) after two brothers with learning difficulties saw care and support packages removed without their mother being told why.

The Ombudsman’s investigation of Lewisham Council found that their mother was not involved sufficiently with the authority’s decision-making process.

The authority also failed to take the woman’s complaint through the statutory procedure, and significantly delayed dealing with her complaint when it eventually was registered by the council.

“In this case the children’s situation had not changed but Lewisham Council reduced the level of care it provided,” said Michael King, the LGO. “The mother has been left upset about not knowing why their support was reduced, or having any kind of input into its review.

“The statutory children’s complaints procedure is there to protect vulnerable children and young people and has been operational for more than 10 years.

“Councils should know by now how to identify a children’s services complaint and use the correct process. However, regardless of which statutory procedure is used, councils should follow simple good practice: involve people in decisions which affect them, and respond promptly to concerns.”

The two boys, who have autism and other educational needs, both received a care package which included seven hours a week of short break payments and 24 nights a year respite accommodation.

But Lewisham reviewed this package and, without asking the mother to comment, took the report straight to its Care Package Panel.

It then decided the boys did not need respite accommodation and also reduced direct payments from seven hours per week to just four.

The LGO has told the council to pay the woman £400 for the avoidable distress caused, and an additional £150 for the time and trouble in pursuing her complaint.

It also advised the council to improve its Care Panel decision-making process and review its procedures for identifying and dealing with complaints involving children

A Lewisham Council spokesperson told PSE: “We accept the Ombudsman's findings and we are acting on the recommendations and have apologised. 

"We have already reviewed our processes and procedures that are in place to ensure this situation doesn’t happen again."

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