Local authority’s failure to give clear advice on disability payments
The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has published a report following a complaint by an adult social care recipient, relating to direct payments she received for home care, required due to a disability.
Ms J had limited mobility. She could stand and walk for short periods but could not sit, so she had to spend most of her time lying on her back. She was in severe and constant pain,managed by medication which affected her concentration. She lived alone and was dependent on others for her personal care and all domestic tasks.
Ms J received direct payments so she could arrange and purchase her own care. She complained that Central Bedfordshire Council:
- was not consistent about what items were covered by direct payments
- failed to adhere to government guidelines about what should be covered
- increased her client contribution without carrying out a financial assessment
- did not take account of all relevant information when it did carry out the financial assessment
- and did not follow its complaints procedure in investigating the complaint.
And as a result she suffered:
- reduced care, because it was not clear what her direct payment covered and she had had to divert carer support to helping her pursue the complaint, and
- significant avoidable stress.
The LGO found that the council had :
- failed to keep adequate records of meetings, the complainant’s care needs assessment and whether the personal budget they had calculated was correct.
- wrongly failed to deal with the complainant’s non-payment or to inform her of changes to her assessed charge, later backdating the charge she was said to be liable for.
- did not follow its complaints procedure.
These failings meant that the complainant did not have a support plan that adequately reflected her needs, had not had an accurate assessment since 2010, was likely to have been wrongly charged and had received less care and support than she could have.
The LGO therefore held that she had suffered an injustice and recommended that the council apologise, confirm it would not seek to reclaim any unpaid contributions and write off any debts it was attempting to recover. It should also arrange for a new care needs assessment to be carried out and a new support plan to be prepared. It should provide a clear explanation of why it does not consider some costs to be disability-related expenditure. It should also pay the complainant £5,000 for her inadequate care and £2,000 for her distress.
The report underlines the importance of providing full information to vulnerable adult social care recipients and of keeping thorough records.