Complaints about children's services in Hertfordshire almost triple latest data shows

And the complaints resulted in a significant increase in compensation awards
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More than £75,000 has been paid out in the last year following complaints over children’s services in Hertfordshire.

Data on the number of complaints made to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Ombudsman – and the ‘compensation’ awarded – was presented to a meeting of the Hertfordshire County Council’s children, young people and families cabinet panel on Thursday (November 9).

It highlighted a significant increase in both the number of complaints made – and the ‘compensation’ awarded by the county council.

The figures were revealed at a recent cabinet meeting.The figures were revealed at a recent cabinet meeting.
The figures were revealed at a recent cabinet meeting.

Complaints have almost tripled in the last year, rising from 26 in the previous year (21/22) to the latest figure of 71.

And, according to the report, the complaints resulted in financial awards of just under £77,800 compared to the previous figure of £20,550.

Not all complaints made to the Ombudsman are investigated – last year the report says he decided ‘not to investigate’ 16 complaints.

And not all of the representations made to the Ombudsman in 22/23 have yet been determined.

But according to the report, the ‘main themes’ of these complaints, where fault was identified, relate to delays in issuing EHCPs (Education, Health and Care Plan) and education provision.

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

And on Thursday councillors heard that complaints about children’s services raised directly with the council had increased too – by more than 80 per cent.

Councillors heard there had been just over 1,150 complaints, or ‘representations’, made directly to the county council about children’s services in 22/23 – 81 per cent higher than the 639 recorded in 21/22.

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

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

Presenting the report, complaint manager Kam Bhangal pointed to the number of complaints in relation to the size of the organisation.

She also noted the decrease in the number of complaints being dealt with informally – and said that, increasingly, people wanted to go through a formal route.

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

She also suggested that, at times, services were running ‘hot’ – managing higher levels of need than previously.

A spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council responded to the figures: “We work hard to provide the best outcomes for children in Hertfordshire and whilst the proportion of cases resulting in formal complaints remains low, we regret that the numbers have increased.

“Like many councils this is driven by a significant increase in demand for children’s services particularly relating to children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.

“We have recognised the issues raised by parents and the recent SEND Area inspection and are taking urgent action to improve the timeliness and quality of EHCPs and communication with families, including investing an additional £5m to recruit more staff and improve training.

“We have also introduced a dedicated Resolution and Reconciliation Team to address issues before they escalate.”