Council made 'unsubstantiated claims' about asylum-seeking mother

A council has been criticised by the local government and social care ombudsman (LGO) over its treatment of an asylum-seeking mother and the charity that supported her.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Michael King. Picture: LGO
Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Michael King. Picture: LGO

Sandwell Council has been ordered by LGO Michael King to apologise to the mother and her charity representative.

The council's actions including barring her representative from meetings and making unsubstantiated claims of abusive behaviour against her and the charity involved.

The council must also pay the mother a “token” amount of £250 to “acknowledge the distress it caused and the time and trouble she was put to pursuing the complaint”.

King, in his ruling, notes that “this is not the first complaint we have upheld against the council in its dealings with this not-for-profit organisation”.

The mother was being supported by an unnamed charity in her asylum claim and was living with her son in a one-bedroom flat provided by the council, details King.

She complained to the council about the flat’s suitability and support it was offering.

But the local authority blocked her charity representative from attending her meetings with them, on one occasion threatening to call the police if her advocate didn’t leave the venue of the meeting.

The council then made serious allegations about the mother and her representative’s conduct, although it could not back these claims up. In addition, the council had not started safeguarding procedures to protect her son, which would be expected if there were genuine concerns about her behaviour, King adds.

Further accusations made by the council against the charity followed. None of these could be backed by evidence. This included an unsubstantiated claim that the charity was motivated by financial incentives and sent abusive and threatening emails.

“This investigation has been characterised throughout by inconsistent evidence presented by Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council," said King.

“It has made serious and distressing claims it cannot substantiate, and yet we have seen no evidence to call into question the behaviour of either this mother or her representatives.”

He says that the views against the mother and her charity representative came from one of its social workers, but adds that the council “presented those views as its own”.

“I now strongly urge the council to take on board the recommendations I have made to improve its services and hope it will now start to rebuild bridges with the representative’s organisation, which provides support to some of the most vulnerable people in its area,” added King.

The council is recommended to improve the way it deals with the public and remind staff that families have the right to be accompanied to meetings by appropriate representatives.

It also needs to meet with the charity involved to “better understand each other’s aims”, said King.

Sandwell Council and Sandwell Children's Trust, the independent trust which runs children's services in the area, said: "We fully take on board the feedback from the report and have worked swiftly to implement all the recommendations from the Ombudsman.

"We have apologised to the person who made the complaint and have measures in place to prevent a similar situation occurring in the future."