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Herts County Council pays out £77,796 as children’s services complaints rocket 173%

Hertfordshire County Council paid out nearly £78,000 in a year after complaints were made about its children’s services – almost four times the amount paid the previous year.

Data on the number of grievances registered with the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman last year (2022-23) – and the compensation awarded – were presented to a meeting of the council’s children, young people and families cabinet panel last Thursday (November 9).

In 2021-22 there were 26 complaints to the watchdog about children’s services in Hertfordshire, but last year there were 71 (up 173%).

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According to the report, complaints determined by the ombudsman last year resulted in financial awards of £77,796 – up 278% on the previous year’s total of £20,550.

Not all complaints made to the ombudsman are investigated – last year he decided not to proceed with 16 of the 71 complaints, but not all of the representations made in 2022-23 have been determined yet.

Complaints where fault was identified often related to delays in issuing EHCPs (education, health and care plans) and education provision.

Before asking the ombudsman to investigate, a complainant has to have raised their concerns with a local authority.

At the meeting, councillors heard that complaints about children’s services raised directly with the council had increased too – by 81% from 639 in 2021/22 to 1,157 in 2022-23.

Delays and communication issues alongside care plans and assessments accounted for most of those complaints.

Meanwhile, the number of compliments recorded fell marginally from 375 to 358.

Presenting the report, complaint manager Kam Bhangal contrasted the number of complaints with the size of the organisation.

During a debate on the data, executive director for children’s services Jo Fisher told councillors that more children were being referred to services than before the Covid-19 pandemic.

She suggested that at times services were running “hot” – managing higher levels of need than previously.

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