Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 19 Sep 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr B says the Council wrongly removed an activity from his daughter’s (Ms C’s) adult social care support plan. The Council decided this following a properly carried out review, so there is no fault. However, the Council failed to complete a follow up of the new support plan. There are valid reasons why the suggestions the Council made are not working for Ms C, which the Council would have discovered at a follow up review. The Council’s fault means it has not met Ms C’s social needs, and she has funded it herself. The Council will apologise, refund what the family have paid to meet eligible care needs, ensure a suitable option is available to meet Ms C’s social needs, and make remind staff of its review procedures.
- The complainant, who I will call Mr B, says the Council wrongly removed participation in, and transport to, a sewing group as part of his daughter’s (Ms C’s) support plan. The Council previously approved the sewing group and funded it, and transport to it, to meet Ms C’s social needs. Mr B says the services which the Council has suggested in replacement do not meet Ms C’s needs as she cannot attend without transport, and they do not offer activities that she can take part in, or that she wishes to take part in.
- Ms C enjoyed the sewing group, and it gave her an opportunity to socialise with others. Ms C is missing social interaction because of the Council’s review and would like the Council to review its position. The family have continued to fund Ms C’s attendance at the sewing group, and this is the only social activity she has been doing.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We may investigate complaints made on behalf of someone else if they have given their consent. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26A(1), as amended). Ms C has given consent for Mr B to act for her.
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
- 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, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered:
- information provided by Mr B and the Council.
- The Care Act 2014 and associated statutory guidance.
- Responses to a draft of this statement.
What I found
- When a council is aware of someone in its area who may need adult care services it should complete an assessment of their needs; any eligible care needs should be detailed in a support plan. The support plan should include a personal budget, which is the amount available to meet your eligible care needs. The Council should review care needs assessments at least yearly.
- Ms C had a support plan which included attendance at a sewing group one day per week to meet her social needs. The support plan also included specialist taxi transport to attend the group.
- In June 2018 the Council completed a review of Ms C’s care and support needs. The Council met with Ms C and her mother. The review explained how much Ms C enjoys the sewing group. The Council asked Ms C if she has any friends at the group; she said most of the people that attend are a lot older, so she doesn’t have a lot in common other than a love of sewing.
- The review identified that Ms C wanted to meet new people her own age to broaden her social network and develop her social skills. The support plan removed the sewing group and replaced it with a development referral to source a cooking group so Ms C can meet new people preferably of a similar age. The Council removed transport from the care plan because the review identified that Ms C could get out and about on her own and could use public transport.
- Mr B told the Council the review contained some errors. The Council completed a further review five months later. The Council met with Ms C, her mother and Mr B. The result was that information around social activities and employment support agencies would prevent the need for care and support as this would hopefully build Ms C’s confidence and further her skills of independence. The Council would send information to Ms C about a suggested charity providing social, leisure and learning opportunities. Ms C’s support plan identified her needs would be met by non-commissioned services.
- Mr B says following the assessment the Council did not send them any information about community groups to meet Ms C’s needs. However, shortly after the assessment meeting the Council sent Ms C the draft assessment form and included a link to a charity offering activities. Three months later the Council also sent Mr B an e-mail with links for a ‘life connector’ who could help Ms C find potential clubs, groups and activities in the local community where she could meet people and engage in social activities.
- National guidance says the Council has a duty to keep support plans under review. When a support plan is revised the Council should consider a light touch review 6-8 weeks after signing off to ensure the new plan is working as intended. The Council’s own procedure is to review a support plan 4-6 weeks after a new plan starts. The Council failed to do this.
Was there fault causing injustice?
- Although the Council originally provided the sewing group as part of Ms C’s support plan, this does not mean it must do so indefinitely. The Council funded it to meet Ms C’s need to socialise, as her only real social engagement is with her parents. At the annual review it came to light that Ms C would benefit from socialising with people her own age, and the sewing group did not meet this need.
- The Council only has to meet assessed eligible needs; it does not have to meet a person’s ‘wants’. It is acknowledged that Ms C enjoys the sewing group and wants to attend. However, it was sensible to find a way of meeting Ms C’s need to socialise that also met the need to socialise with people her own age. There is no reason for the Ombudsman to question or criticise the Council’s decision as it followed a proper process; it met with Ms C and her parents to complete an assessment of Ms C’s abilities, wants and needs. It completed a further review after Mr B raised concerns. The Council appropriately directed Ms C to other ways of meeting her social needs.
- The Council did not complete a light touch review after it made changes to Ms C’s support plan to ensure it was adequately meeting her needs, until eight months after the November review. The Council accepts this is fault. The Council says it was unsure what to do because Mr B had made a complaint. However, if someone is unhappy that is even more reason to complete a follow up of the changes.
- Mr B gives valid reasons why the groups the Council suggested are not currently adequate to meet Ms C’s needs. If the Council had completed a follow up as required, these concerns would have been addressed. The Council has now completed a follow up in July 2019, but since June 2018 the Council has not met Ms C’s social needs. The family has continued to fund the sewing group, and transport to it, as the only way it knew was suitable to meet Ms C’s social needs.
- Although the Council can refer those with eligible support needs to organisations that might be able to meet those needs, the Council must then follow up that those groups are suitable to meet the individual’s assessed eligible needs. In this case, the referrals the Council has suggested has not led to Ms C attending any social activities and her social needs remain unmet. The Council must demonstrate there is a suitable way to meet Ms C’s social needs to discharge its duty. At this stage it is unclear whether the suggested groups are appropriate to meet Ms C’s individual needs, due to the rural location she lives and the time and difficulty it would take to travel to those activities by public transport, or the cost by taxi. If the Council can show the groups are appropriate to meet Ms C’s social needs and Ms C chooses not to take part in those activities that would not be fault of the Council.
- To acknowledge the impact caused by its fault the Council will:
- Apologise to Ms C and Mr B for failing to review whether the amended support plan was sufficiently meeting Ms C’s eligible needs.
- Pay Mr B the amount he has paid for the sewing group and transport since the Council removed it from Ms C’s support plan. The Council has re-instated Ms C’s direct payment to cover the cost of the sewing group and transport. It should continue to pay this until it can evidence it has taken all reasonable steps to reach agreement with Ms C and her parents about how to meet her eligible care needs, and demonstrate the groups it has suggested have suitable activities for Ms C, at a time and location it is possible and suitable for her to attend.
- Remind relevant staff to follow the procedure to complete appropriate adult social care reviews, especially after a new support plan is implemented, or there are changes to an existing plan.
- I have completed my investigation on the basis the agreed action is sufficient to acknowledge the impact of the Council’s fault.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman