CAFCASS COMPLAINTS

I recently made a FOI request to CAFCASS in order to see what was happening in terms of the trends of complaints from parents. I thought (rightly) that there was likely to have been an increase in complaints post LASPO driven by the increase in LiPs, and I wanted to find out if my hunch was right.

The response is now in : see whatdotheyknow.com.

The response was interesting for a number of reasons.

Firstly, as expected there is an upward trend in complaint numbers, although perhaps not as stark as I had thought it might be.

2011/12 : 1,265

2012/13 : 1,495

2013/14 : 1,596

2014 (to 21/10) : 769 (grosses up to around 1400 – but we’ll have to see how that pans out, my hunch is it will be more)

On to the outcome of complaints. The rather astonishing fact emerges that as of February 2012 CAFCASS, having previously gathered such data, decided to stop collecting it. So, whilst we know that OVER 50% of complaints to CAFCASS in 2011/12 were upheld or partially upheld – we have no idea of how often CAFCASS has been getting it wrong since. That is an astonishing lack of transparency – I absolutely did not expect to find that out and think it is hugely disappointing at a time when CAFCASS really needs to be building public trust and confidence. And when the last set of statistics gathered suggest that over half of the complaints have a good basis – that is really not a time to stop using complaints as a tool to enhance practice and performance.

Next up – categorisation of complaints.

Again, because of changes to the way data is collected and handled the actual figures don’t tell us much. But what is interesting is the decision made about how complaints might be categorised. Until Aug 2014 the categories of complaint were described from the perspective of CAFCASS and were rather bland. They didn’t touch on the heart of the potential issues I see clients and litigants complaining about. But from August 2014 the categories were expanded to include bias, discrimination, factual errors… Forgive me, but how is it possible that a pubic body like CAFCASS with Equality Act duties can not have tracked discrimination complaints statistics before August 2014? Again, astonishing. I’ve asked for clarification of who actually categorises the complaints as it seems to me it is a rather subjective task.

One of the things I had really wanted was the numbers of unrepresented parties who had complained. Unsurprisingly perhaps this data is not kept. But I would bet my next FAS form that there is a high preponderance of LiPs making complaints. And that the increase in LiPs accounts for the increase in complaints.

Finally, as best we can tell, the number of complaints to CAFCASS is rising alongside increases in the number of complaints to the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman about them, if the increase in enquiries back to CAFCASS arising from those complaints is an indicator of ombudsman complaint numbers.

So there we have it ladies and gentlemen. Sadly, illuminating for all the wrong reasons. CAFCASS – PLEASE work towards more transparency!! Complaints are a reality for every big organisation, and the efficient resolution of them, and use of them as a learning tool is something to be proud of.

Upselling : Would you like some humour with your travel madam?

I hate that I even know what upselling is. I have a train station branch of Pumpkin to thank for that – a notice on the back of an open staff room door, reminding the poor staff to “upsell” at every opportunity.

You know how it goes:

“A tea please”

“Is that a large tea madam?”

“Oh yes please. Good idea just before a long train journey”.

“Would you like a muffin with that madam?”

“Oh yes. Do you know, even though there is a wall of enormous muffins right in front of me as I order it had never occurred to me I might want a muffin. Please add one to my order”.

No of course, it doesn’t really go like that.

Me : “A tea please”

Server : Is that a large madam?”

Me : “No. If I wanted a large I would have asked for one. Isn’t that why regular is called regular, so you don’t have to specify that bloody size?”

Server : “Would you like a muffin with that madam?”

Me: “No. If I wanted a muffin I would have ordered. A. Bloody. Muffin.”

Server : “Butofcoursemadame”

Alright, it doesn’t go like that either. It’s more like this.

Me : “A tea please”

Server : “Is that a large tea madam?”

Me : *annoyed face, wonders what’s the point of the stupid description of “regular” if you still have to specify* “No thank you”.

Server : “Would you like a muffin with that madam?”

Me : *fumes quietly inside, thinking “No. If I wanted a muffin I’d have bloody asked!”*

Server : “No thanks. Just the tea”.

 

It’s not their fault you see. The sign on the door says they have to. So, 99 times out of a hundred I comply with the stupid ritualistic asking of questions to nobodies observable benefit, dietary, financially or otherwise. Once in a blue moon I mutter a half hearted sarcastic response and feel immediately guilty for taking it out on the poor barista…

Anyway, bearing in mind that these are the internal conversation I have EVERY TIME I TRAVEL TO COURT AND STOP FOR A COFFEE – can you imagine my delight at this new development recently?

Me : “Hello, can I have a return to [unnamed drab town*] please?”

Server :”Will that be first class madam?”

Me : “Er, no. Thanks for the compliment though” (yes, I actually said that)

Server : “That will be £x”

Me : “Do they actually make you say that?”

Server : “Yes, I was disciplined and demoted for not saying it.”

Me : “I think most people who are going to want a first class ticket probably know they want a first clas ticket”.

Server : “Especially when a standard ticket is £x first class is £YYY.”

Me : “They seriously disciplined you?”

Server : “Yes, But fortunately I have a good trade union”. *taps trade union badge on lapel*

Me : “You should probably ask me if I want a muffin with that you know.”

[me leaving]

Server : “Wait – do you need a bus ticket for travel in [destination drab town]”

 

I love him. He is an asset to his employers because he made a customer laugh.

And in response to being upsold on train tickets I shall henceforth never ever buy a first class ticket on point of principle.

Which is exactly what I would have done anyway, but now I’m doing it defiantly. Without muffins.

 

* train station and route costs concealed to protect identity of lovely train man.

I need a non-mol

Enough!

I need protection….from lips and zips and drip drip drips…

I have recently exchanged a dozen emails (in each direction) with a litigant in person about the drafting of an order that was agreed in court. It does not matter, I have concluded, how much you explain that you are just being asked to convert the judge’s oral answer to writing – a litigant in person is still likely to raise new points or dispute things that were uncontentious in court in response to a draft order. Fortunately this LiP was very polite in his many emails. But still, I have spent longer in this case on the drafting of the order – and failed attempts to agree it – than I spent at court (a full four hours where it should have been one). I know the ship has long sailed on HMCTS actually producing its own orders (notwithstanding the provisions of the CAP which anticipate the judge will do her own orders) – but I am seriously wondering if it is really too much to be expected to exchange emails with LiPs in this way before e-filing. Experiences like this erode both my goodwill and my profitability because it is all more time spent for free – and in light of the current state of the family bar we have to maximise our capacity to spend time on paid work in order to begin to minimise the reduction in income. There is less space for pro bono work when we do so much without any recompense at all. I spent an ENTIRE evening drafting court orders and approving other people’s draft orders the other week, finishing at 11.30pm (with most of my oppos also being glued to their email for the same purpose). It is VERY difficult to say no, and since CAP / CMO a handwritten order prepared at court is really no longer feasible or acceptable. I often draft at court, but this usually results in me handing my laptop around due to an absolute 3G blackout, which is less than ideal.

On top of that we have another omnibus suite wardrobe thing – this time in relation to non-mols. Yes, the summer respite from cascading is over – personally, I haven’t unzipped the bodybag yet – It’s been a looong day and I need to offload first… We have guidance on non-mols too : “Don’t make indefinite orders”. Really? They had to ask that question? And ex partes should be made only until the return date. Really? That old chestnut? Has anybody yet worked out that this has serious resource implications? It means every non-mol will now require personal service twice. It means that in all those cases where the applicant is in person the BAILIFF will have to personally serve twice. It means that for every difficult to serve / evasive respondent there will be an applicant who is at risk of a break in injunctive cover.

I went to Scarborough last week to speak at the NAPO Conference (Family Court Section). We had an interesting discussion about McKenzie friends and attitudes to them by CAFCASS practitioners. I was interested to hear that there seem to be pockets where paid-for McKenzies are more prevalent – London and Midlands mentioned in particular. Certainly they are not very common in Bristol. One of the things I pondered was the need for CAFCASS and its practitioners to be more transparent in their ways of working to build confidence in a user group whose first source of information about their work and ethos is likely to be information sourced online, most of which will be highly critical of their perceived corruption, bias and poor practice. Hoping my FOI requests to CAFCASS and HMCTS will be back soon…I returned from Scarborough with an unidentified massive carbuncle on my hand, it was either a poison dart from one of my stalkers or an infected sand fly bite. It has been quite effective distraction for my opponents so far this week. I just have to wave my left hand across their field of vision and they lose the thread of the submissions. And when I referred at one point to the metaphorical need to “lance the boil” I got a most entertaining reaction (think Austin Powers, moley moley moley).

Still no commencement order on s11 by the way…1069825_10152314439647721_2547425078765817780_n

On to more happy things : the super amazeballs Andrew Pack (Suesspicious Minds) won the Legal Commentary award at the Jordans award ceremony last week, which is ACE. We all had a fantastic night, and it was all a bit of a love in really…

AND finally, a pic of some beautiful flowers that I found on my desk after court, from my hubby who didn’t forget our wedding anniversary after all! (my kind of stalker) They’re too lovely not to share. :-)

Anyway, back to my non-mol. What I need is not some woolly unenforceable order, I need a specific provision prohibiting all communication by email, direct or indirect, including but not limited to cascades, guidance, templates, legal updates or communication from any litigant in person. Indefinite would be nice, but I’ll settle for until next week…