Hertfordshire County Council paid out more than £75,000 on the direction of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman last year (2022/23) after complaints were made about children’s services, councillors have been told.

Data on the number of complaints made to the Ombudsman – and the compensation awarded – was presented to  a meeting of the 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.

Whereas in 2021/2022 there were 26 complaints made to the Ombudsman about children’s services in Hertfordshire, last year (2022/2023) there were 71.

According to the report, complaints determined by the Ombudsman last year (22/23) resulted in financial awards of £77,796.

That’s significantly higher than the previous year, when the financial awards totalled £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 were reported to relate to delays in issuing EHCPs and education provision.

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

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

There had been 1,157 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 alongside care plans and assessments accounted for most of those complaints.

Meanwhile the number of compliments recorded fell from 375 in 21/22 to 358 in 22/23.

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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 were wanted to go through a formal route.

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 pandemic.

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

A spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council said: “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.”