Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council (19 004 800)

Category : Adult care services > Assessment and care plan

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 07 Jul 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained the Council failed to arrange suitable accommodation for him during a Christmas holiday in 2017. The Ombudsman upheld Mr X’s complaint. The Council has agreed to apologise to Mr X and review the way in which it monitors the progress of complaints investigations.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, complains the Council failed to arrange suitable accommodation for him during a Christmas holiday in 2017. He said that, as a result, he was left in accommodation that was not suitable for him. Mr X complains the Council also failed to deal with his complaint in a timely manner and failed to update him about any delays. Mr X says this resulted in distress to him.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended). I decided to use my discretion and investigate what happened more than 12 months ago, because there had been a delay by the Council in dealing with the complaint in a timely manner.
  3. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information I received from Mr X and the Council. I shared a copy of my draft decision statement with Mr X and the Council and considered any comments I received, before I made my final decision.

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What I found

The placement during the Christmas holiday

  1. Mr X had previously been living in shared supported living accommodation. Discussions took place in 2017 between the Council, Mr X and his parents about whether he wanted to live somewhere else and go to a different college (a residential college which I shall call College Y). As part of this, the Council needed to decide if Mr X had capacity to make such decisions and what his views were. Mr X had a social worker at the time.
  2. As such, Mr X’s care act advocate spoke to him, explored his wishes and feelings and completed a capacity assessment. Mr X said he had visited College Y and liked it. His parents subsequently went to Court for a Tribunal Hearing to try and get the Council to agree to fund a placement for him at this college.
  3. A manager from the Council’s adult social care department asked a social worker to carry out a core assessment and provide this to the Tribunal Hearing. The social worker was told he would also potentially care manage Mr X’s case.
  4. The social worker carried out Mr X’s needs assessment in September 2017. It said that:
    • Mr X had ADHD and autism
    • He responded well to structure in his daily activities and felt safe when his day activities have been pre-planned.
    • Due to his autistic condition, Mr X experienced difficulties with social interactions and communication, especially in new surroundings. He could be easily stressed by loud noises and unfamiliar environments.
  5. The Tribunal Hearing took place on 8 September 2017. The Council was represented by a solicitor and presented two witnesses, including the Council’s Special Educational Needs (SEN) Manager.
  6. The Tribunal produced a 10-page document (Order) on 12 September 2017, summarising what had been discussed and the Tribunal’s decision. The Tribunal decided the Council should facilitate and fund a placement for Mr X at College Y. College Y was a residential college but did not provide accommodation for its students during school holidays. As such, the Order said: “The Council would maintain his supported accommodation for outside of term time at a cost of £20,000”. This made it clear the Council would have to arrange accommodation for Mr X during school holidays.
  7. The Tribunal sent its Order to the SEN manager and the Council’s Solicitors on 13 September 2017.
  8. A record from the social worker from 14 September 2017 said that he was awaiting to be informed of the outcome of the Tribunal Hearing. Furthermore, he could assign the case to the Council’s Wallasey Locality for further care and support. Mr X’s case was transferred that same day and put in the team’s allocation tray one week later.
  9. Mr X moved to College Y on 30 October 2017.
  10. The Council told me it took until 9 November 2017 (two months) until it forwarded a copy of the Order to Adult Social Care. It told me: “The Social Work Team were awaiting the formal outcome of tribunal which was shared with them on 9 November 2017”.
  11. During this time, the Council did not update Mr X about what was happening with his case. As such, Mr X’s advocate sent an email to the Council. She also copied in the social worker who had assessed Mr X in September 2017. In the email, she said that:
    • Mr X needs a care package locally during holiday periods. The first applicable holiday period would be in 5 weeks, from 7 December 2017 to 3 January 2018.
    • The use of accommodation such as 'Shared Lives' has been suggested as a potentially appropriate provision for holiday periods. However, Mr X knows very little about it.
    • The uncertainty of not knowing where he will live during the upcoming holiday period, is unsettling for Mr X. He therefore would like to have more information of any proposed housing placements by Monday 13 November, so preparations can be made, and he has some time to prepare Mr X for this and enable him to make any choices presented to him.
  12. However, Mr X’s advocate did not receive a response to this email.
  13. After adult social care received a copy of the Order on 9 November 2017, it allocated Mr X’s case to a new social worker on 14 November 2017. She immediately tried to contacted Mr X’s advocate to organise Mr X’s accommodation during his Christmas school holiday.
  14. Mr X says the uncertainty caused him much distress during this time and the Council should have been more aware of this, considering his anxiety and autism.
  15. The social worker contacted Mr X’s advocate on 16 November 2017 to introduce herself and arrange a meeting with Mr X on 22 November to discuss Shared Lives Options. The following day, the social worker sent a referral for Mr X to the Council’s Shared Lives provider to identify a suitable and available shared lives carer.
  16. The social worker met with Mr X, his advocate and his parents on 22 November. The record of the meeting states that:
    • Mr X said he wanted the carer / placement to have Autism and anxiety specific skills.
    • The social worker advised that, due to the limited timescale remaining, the Council may have to organise a residential placement for him, if it is not possible to arrange a shared lives carer.
    • Mr X said he would accept whatever could be arranged, as long as it would be near to his parents. He would also like it to be mixed boys/girls and active.
    • Mr X’s parents said that, due to the limited time available, they would be willing to support Mr X with visiting possible placements.
  17. The following day, the social worker contacted the shared lives provider to ask them if they could visit Mr X to give him more information about the scheme. The provider said they had someone in mind but would meet Mr X first. This meeting took place on 30 November 2017. However, unfortunately the shared lives carer told the provider the following day, that they had become ill and could no longer take on Mr X.
  18. The provider contacted several other carers, but they were unable to provide respite or were booked in with other people. This left the Council with only one week to identify a different type of placement, at a time when most spare capacity was already booked for people needing respite over the Christmas period.
  19. On 1 December 2017, the social worker visited a home for young adults (home 1) to see if this could be suitable for Mr X. The home was located close to his parents and friends, and the home had a mixture of residents by age and gender.
  20. The social worker also called an alternative home (home 2) who said they did not have a vacancy.
  21. Mr X says the Council should have considered a placement via “Autism Together”. However, the Council says they do not usually provide short term placements.
  22. On 4 December 2017, the social worker forwarded details of home 1 to Mr X’s parents, who visited the home. They told the social worker the following day that they were concerned that residents appeared considerably older than their son. The social worker said the home was in a familiar location for Mr X and he would have a separate flat, so he could have time away from other residents when needed. However, Mr X’s mother said her son would disengage with activities if left on his own in his bedroom. The social worker explained the placement provides activities, although not on a one to one basis. The social worker said she would look into other vacancies.
  23. The social worker contacted home 2 again the following day, who said they would have a vacancy from 11 December onwards. The manager of the home said she had spoken to Mr X’s parents. The home organises daily activities and take out residents every day. As such, home 2 would be more suitable for Mr X.
  24. In the end Mr X had to:
    • Stay with his parents on 7 December.
    • Be in home 1 from 8 until 11 December
    • Be in home 2 from 11 until 15 December
    • Be back in home 1 from 15 December 2017 until 2 January 2018.
  25. Home 2 told the social worker on 20 December 2017 that Mr X moved back to home 1 on 15 December because they did not have any place from that day. The manager told the social worker that Mr X and his parents were fine with this. Mr X told me that home 2 moved him, because home 1 had a new client coming in who needed the room for. The Council says both homes are operated by the same provider, and this happened without the social worker being informed.
  26. Mr X returned to college on 3 January 2018. Mr X’s parents told the Council that:
    • Mr X had only made the most of home 1, because it was near to their home. He found home 1 difficult.
    • Home 2 was the better option, although it was further away from home.
  27. Mr X believes that: if the Council had pursued Shared Lives as an option earlier, and pursued alternative arrangements earlier, the above problems could have been avoided.


  1. There was an unreasonable delay of two months, before the Council shared the outcome of the Tribunal (the Order) with adult social care. This was fault. The Council should have forwarded this immediately. It should also have contacted Mr X or his advocate in a timely manner, when it received the Order, to have a discussion how it would take the Order forward. This would have ensured that Mr X, or his advocate, could have stressed the importance of making any arrangements in a timely manner to: avoid any anxiety for Mr X, and ensure the correct accommodation provision would be identified on time. The Council failed to do this, which is fault.
  2. The Council has told me that it has since changed the procedure in which it deals with such Orders. All Orders go directly to the Legal Team now and the Council has employed a locum Solicitor to work closely with the SEN Team and deal with the Tribunal Cases.
  3. Once the case was allocated to a new social worker at the end of November 2017, it progressed quickly.
  4. If these faults had not occurred, Mr X’s case would have been allocated earlier. This would have reduced the distress Mr X experienced during this time. However, I am unable to conclude this would have had an impact on the eventual outcome. The Council had identified a suitable shared lives carer for Mr X. However, the carer became ill on 1 December 2017, leaving the Council only a week to find an alternative. I do not agree with Mr X’s view that the Council should also already have had lined up an alternative to the shared lives carer.
  5. The Council acknowledges that this resulted in a situation that was not ideal. However, it was the only alternative available at such short notice with most alternative providers already booked.

Complaints handling:

  1. The Council says that it should respond to complaints within 25 working days (five weeks). If this is not possible, it should liaise with the complainant and agree an alternative timescale.
  2. Mr X made a complaint about the above events on 29 December 2017. He sent his complaint to a manager within the Council, not the complaints team. However, it took until 30 January 2018, before the Complaints Team first became aware of his complaint. It told Mr X that it would ask the NHS Community Trust to look into this urgently, to prevent the risk of issues being repeated.
  3. Mr X chased up the Council on 28 February 2018, but did not receive a response.
  4. The Trust provided a response to the Council on 16 March 2018, but it later appeared that this was sent to an email address that was no longer being used. The Council has acknowledged to me that it should have ensured that any emails to that address should have received an automated response with the correct email address included.
  5. On 1 June 2018, the Council’s Complaints Manager chased the Community Trust Complaints Team for a response. However, the Council did not follow this up further. The Council told me it is unable to determine why this did not happen until 4 June 2019. Only then did it become apparent that the response had already been sent (to the wrong email address) on 16 March 2018. The Council provided its complaint response on 7 June 2019.
  6. Mr X told me that the delays, and not knowing what was happening, caused him a lot of distress.
  7. Mr X wants:
    • An assurance the Council has (now) a system in place that ensures that:
        1. Complaints officers monitor complaints to ensure they are responded to in a timely manner, including when a complaint is referred to the NHS Trust to investigate
        2. Updates are provided to complainants in case of any delays.
    • More choice of suitable placements for him in the future, with placements arranged in advance.
    • More training / awareness amongst staff (ASC/Complaints) about the detrimental effect uncertainty has on people and adults with autism and anxiety.


  1. There was an unreasonable delay until Mr X’s complaint was forwarded to the complaints team. There was subsequently a failure by the complaints team of monitoring the process and progress through which the complaint was being dealt with. This resulted in an unreasonable delay of almost 17 months, which caused distress to Mr X.

Agreed action

  1. I recommended that, within four weeks of my decision, the Council should:
    • Apologise to Mr X for the faults identified above and the distress these have caused him. It should also pay him £200 for the distress referred to in paragraph 33 and another £200 for the distress referred to in paragraph 43.
    • The Council should review the way in which it monitors the progress of complaint investigations so it can take appropriate and timely action when complainants reach the 25 working days deadline.
  2. The Council has told me it has accepted my recommendations.

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Draft decision

  1. For reasons explained above, I have decided to uphold Mr X’s complaint. I am satisfied with the actions the Council will carry out to remedy this and have therefore decided to complete my investigation and close the case

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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