Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 15 Jul 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Miss B complains the Council was wrong to cut her personal budget in half and has failed to deal properly with her financial assessment. There was no fault by the Council over its assessment of Miss B’s needs, which resulted in the cut to her personal budget, or over how it decided how much she has to pay for her care. But the Council was at fault for enabling Miss B to accrue more debts and for telling her it could not provide care until she agreed to pay off the debts. It needs to write off the debt and take action to prevent similar problems from happening again.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Miss B, complains the Council was wrong to cut her personal budget in half and only provide five hours of care a week, rather than the previous 10, and has failed to deal properly with her financial assessment.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I have:
- considered the complaint and the documents provided by Miss B;
- discussed the complaint with Miss B;
- considered the comments and documents the Council has provided in response to my enquiries; and
- shared a draft of this statement with Miss B and the Council, and invited comments for me to consider before making my final decision.
What I found
- Miss B has a diagnosis of “unspecified disorder of psychological development leading to significant anxiety symptoms”. A January 2016 review of Miss B’s needs refers to direct payments, managed by an agency, to buy 10 hours of support a week. Miss B was expected to use the funding to employ personal assistants to:
- encourage healthy eating;
- help with shopping;
- encourage her to do house cleaning; and
- help with financial management.
- Council Tax £3.60
- General living expenses £151.45
- Night care allowance £27.45
- Other (Disability Related Expenditure) £20.00.
- Accommodation – losing her tenancy;
- Personal care- self neglect, skin care, low mood;
- Nutrition – poor diet and finances due to over reliance on takeaway foods;
- Financial – increasing debt, vulnerability to financial abuse;
- Challenging behaviours – when access to shops denied, finances and debt management;
- Pet care – possible tenancy breaches.
- Managing and maintaining nutrition – 2 ½ hours a week to menu plan and batch cook a main meal;
- Maintaining personal hygiene – 45 minutes twice a week to help shower;
- Maintaining a habitable home environment – 1 ½ hours a week
- Community access – Miss B had not taken up recommendations made by Community Agents in 2017 and 2018, saying she would need a carer with her to manage anxiety;
- Food shopping – deliveries and online shopping would meet Miss B’s wish to eat more healthily, she can use a microwave to heat food and use a taxi to access shops but was ordering takeaway food;
- Debt management – Miss B was working with an agency to manage personal debts.
- it would stop her direct payments as she was not using them to meet the needs it “had assessed as a priority”;
- she had refused to pay her assessed contribution until it had reviewed her financial assessment;
- the income and disability related expenditure chart completed accurately reflected her circumstances;
- it could not take account of debt repayments or expenditure not directly related to disability;
- it could not arrange care until Miss B agreed to pay her assessed charge and a repayment plan for the debt for the outstanding charge, both of which she would have to pay via a direct debit or standing order;
- it was open to Miss B to arrange her own care and pay for it herself. It said it would still expect her to pay the arrears.
- it had offered to commission five hours of care a week provided she paid her assessed charge; or
- she could arrange care and pay for it herself.
- takes account of the daily living component of a Personal Independence Payment but disregards the mobility component; and
- takes account of disability related expenditure but not debt payments.
Is there evidence of fault by the Council which caused injustice?
- There is no evidence of fault in the way the Council worked out Miss B’s assessed weekly charge. It is in line with the Care and Support Statutory Guidance (Statutory Guidance). This is because the £151.45 allowance for living expenses takes account of:
- the Government’s Minimum Income Guarantee of £91.40 for someone of Miss B’s age;
- the disability premium of £40.35; and
- the enhanced disability premium of £19.70.
- I recommended the Council:
- within four weeks writes to Miss B confirming it has written off the debt for her assessed charge; and
- within eight weeks considers what action it needs to take to ensure:
- direct payments are paid net of the assessed charge to reduce the risk of debts arising; and
- officers do not make meeting eligible cares needs dependent on agreeing to pay off debts.
The Council has agreed to do this.
- I have completed my investigation as the Council has agreed to take the action I recommended.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman