Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 24 Nov 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained about distress caused to him and his wife because of errors the Council made with a care assessment. He also complained the Council commissioned care with a provider he had complained about previously. We found there was fault. The Council apologised to Mr and Mrs X. The Council agreed to make a payment to recognise the distress caused.
- Mr X complains about the way the Council organised care and support for his wife as a result of an operation he had to have. Mr X says:
- A care assessment the Council produced in late 2019 contained numerous errors, and it took five attempts over several months to issue a correct assessment of his wife’s needs.
- He told the Council not to appoint a specific care provider (referred to as Care Provider A in this statement). This is because of a previous issue he had with this provider in 2017. Care Provider A visited his wife when he was not at home. Mr X complained this provider should not have been appointed and the visit should not have taken place.
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, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
- 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)
What I investigated
- I investigated Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s actions from 2019. I did not investigate the historic issues Mr X made reference to when making his 2019 complaint. The reasons for this are set out in the last section of this statement.
How I considered this complaint
- I spoke to Mr X and considered the information he provided. I asked the Council for information and I considered its response to the complaint.
- Mr X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered the comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
- On 8 November 2019 Mr X contacted the Council to talk about an adapted bathroom he wanted to install in his property. He also wanted help arranging care for his wife while he had an operation. Mr X stated his operation was expected to take place in late January/early February 2020.
- On 14 November an Occupational Therapist (OT) and a social care assessor visited Mr and Mrs X to discuss what support Mr X’s wife needed.
- Following the meeting the Council sent Mr and Mrs X a document summarising their circumstances and an assessment of the care required. This prompted a complaint from Mr X. He explained Mrs X’s name was spelt incorrectly on the envelope and the assessment named someone else as Mrs X’s husband. It also included a comment about a different service user. The assessment incorrectly stated Mr and Mrs X had a son, and it stated their daughter could visit regularly to support them. This was not the case. The assessment contained incorrect information about Mrs X’s medication and the wrong GPs surgery.
- In his complaint Mr X referenced previous issues with the Council. These had reduced their confidence in the Council’s services. A number of these were about mistaking his wife’s identity. Mr X stated the Council invoiced his wife for a blue badge that was for her Aunt in 2016. In 2017, he said that Care Provider A confused his wife with her Aunt when they had requested care. This was to enable Mr X to have a knee operation. Mr X stated his knee operation had been cancelled as a result.
- In addition, in 2019 the Council wrongly rejected Mrs X’s postal vote. Mrs X had a postal vote since 2007 but in 2019 the Council uploaded the wrong photograph to her file which meant the postal vote was rejected in error.
- On 18 November the OT who visited Mr and Mrs X made a request for the Equipment and Adaptions Team to see them urgently.
- At the end of November, a team manager wrote to Mr X apologising for the errors in the assessment. She provided an explanation which was specific to a member of staff. The Council stated it had put checks in place to prevent a reoccurrence of the problem. The Council also stated an OT would visit Mr X to discuss their bathroom conversion on 3 December.
- In emails to the Council Mr X explained that his wife was very sick and she had been very stressed by the errors. Although she had initially agreed to care while Mr X had his operation she was now refusing to see anyone about this. Mr X said that following the issue his wife became confused as to who he was and told him to go. Mr X stated he had an appointment with a specialist on 2 December and he would have to refuse surgery if no care plan was in place for his wife. In his emails Mr X also stated he was having to lift his wife despite his shoulder and knee injury. He asked for the matter to be treated as a formal complaint.
- The Council stated it would arrange a suitable care package and it would log the complaint.
- On 13 December the Council’s brokerage team arranged a package of care to start on 20 December. The care had been arranged with Care Provider A. It is unclear who else at the Council was made aware of this.
- An officer spoke to Mr X on 17 December, and Mr X confirmed his surgery would be unlikely to happen before the end of January. He also re-iterated that Care Provider A should not be used for any support needed. The Council says on 17 December an officer contacted Care Provider A to cancel the care package.
- Unfortunately, Care Provider A called on Mrs X while Mr X was not at home on 19 December. They rang the doorbell and called the home phone, leaving a message. As they got no response they left.
- Mr X says this further distressed his wife. They had expressly stated at the outset, and again on 17 December that they would not accept support from Care Provider A. In addition, the care package was not needed until January at the earliest. Mr X asked for the issue to be added to the complaint.
- On 20 December the Council says it submitted a request to its brokerage team to put a care package in place for Mrs X from 6 January. An officer followed up with an email to the brokerage team. The officer explained there was an ongoing complaint but he wanted to ensure that care would be in place so Mr X’s operation could go ahead. He also clarified that Mr and Mrs X did not want support from Care Provider A. This was because of the previous 2017 complaint.
- In subsequent correspondence with the Council Mr X stated he did not want to be contacted by carers or the Council until it had responded to his complaint. He explained, because of the issue, his wife was distressed. He stated if his operation happened before the Council responded, his wife would go to relatives for support. Mr X also explained he was in pain and having difficulties due to medical conditions and his shoulder and knee problems. In response, a council officer suggested how Mr X may get some support with the more immediate difficulties he was having.
- The Council responded to Mr X’s complaint on 21 January. It agreed that the assessment it sent in November was way below the standard expected. It apologised for the anxiety this caused to Mr and Mrs X. The Council reiterated the issued had been raised with the staff concerned and steps had been taken to make sure it did not happen again. The Council stated all the information on its systems for Mrs X was correct.
- The Council also apologised that Care Provider A had contacted them. The Council stated they cancelled the service on 17 December but this had been too late. It accepted responsibility for the issue. Although the Council had cancelled the service on 17 December, it stated Care Provider A had a policy to carry out the planned visit if it was cancelled within 24 hours of the appointment.
- Mr X also made a complaint to Care Provider A about the visit it carried out on 20 December. He also referred to earlier issues in 2017. I have only set out its response to the most recent issue. Care Provider A stated on 13 December, the Council commissioned it to provide care for Mrs X. The care was requested from 20 December. It stated the care was cancelled on 19 December. It stated an error was made and it was not cancelled correctly on its scheduling system. This is why its care staff had still visited on 20 December. Care Provider A upheld Mr X’s complaint and apologised to Mr and Mrs X for the upset and inconvenience this caused.
- On 24 January Mr X told the Council he had an outpatient appointment about his shoulder on 11 February. He doubted the care would be needed until after this date but asked the Council if care would be in place so he could agree to the surgery at the appointment.
- On 3 February the Council stated a care agency had been identified. An officer proposed they met Mr X on 10 February to complete their assessment. However, Mr X was not available. He decided he would prefer Direct Payments so he could find his own care agency. Direct Payment forms were sent to Mr X on 5 February.
- The Council made changes to the support plan and took account of comments from Mr X and his MPs office. Mr X corrected a point about the frequency of his wife’s medication and the Council agreed that the care calls would be increased from 30 minutes to 45 minutes long.
- On 18 February Mr X agreed the support plan was correct and he felt confident that a care package would be in place for his shoulder operation.
- Care Company B was identified. The Council agreed to make payments to them direct and asked the company to check availability to meet Mrs X’s needs. Care Company B had availability to meet the lunchtime and evening calls, but not the early morning care call. On 20 February the Council sent Mr X details of two other potential care agencies that officers had found with good CQC ratings. Unfortunately, one of these were unable to provide support. Ideally Mr X wanted to use Care Company B. However, they were reluctant to split the care with another agency. The Council explained for practical reasons having two separate agencies working with the same person could cause confusion.
- On 24 February the Council provided a link to its list of care providers who had achieved its ‘blue recognised provider emblem”.
- On 2 March Mr X complained to his MP that the Council had failed them because despite days of trying to find a care company that met the Council’s criteria, he had been unable to locate one that could cover the care required for his wife.
- On 3 March the Council clarified that Mr X was free to source care from providers that did not have the blue emblem stamp. An officer stated CQC could confirm their rating and any recent reports. She offered to contact agencies for Mr X if he wanted her to. She checked back with Mr X a few days later.
- Mr X stated he would contact the Council again before signing a contract. He stated a number of suppliers could accommodate the care needed, and they had good ratings and feedback. He told the officer he had arranged to meet three providers and he had requested written quotes for the care.
- Mr X told us that eventually he gained agreement with Care Company B to provide the care his wife required, so his operation could go ahead. However, unfortunately, due to a separate issue with Mr X’s health and the COVID-19 pandemic his operation was cancelled. The cancellation in 2020 was not as a result of fault by the Council.
- Mr X told us the Equipment and Adaptations team at the Council had been helpful in achieving the adapted bathroom Mr and Mrs X needed.
Was there fault by the Council
- There was fault by the Council. There were multiple errors in the assessment report the Council sent Mr and Mrs X. The issues with the assessment led to concern and anxiety and a loss of trust in the Council meeting Mrs X’s needs. This took some time to resolve, however, in February 2020 Mr X confirmed the assessment was correct and could be used to source care for his wife. The errors did not result in the need for Mr X’s operation to be cancelled. Unfortunately, the operation was later cancelled for other reasons.
- Mr and Mrs X had been clear that due to an earlier issue with Care Provider A, they did not wish them to provide care. There was further fault when a communication breakdown led to the Council commissioning care from Care Provider A. The Care Provider acknowledged due to an error when the Council cancelled the service, the visit still went ahead. However, this would not have happened, had the Council clearly communicated Mr and Mrs X’s wishes to the team organising her care.
- The Council has already apologised to Mr and Mrs X and taken steps to ensure the same problems are not repeated. However, to recognise the distress and anxiety caused by the failings set out above the Council agreed to make a payment of £100 to them. This should be done within four weeks of our final decision.
- There was fault by the Council.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- The law states that complaints should normally be brought to the Ombudsman within twelve months of someone being aware of the issues that are subject to complaint. Mr X referenced issues back to 2016 when making his 2019 complaint. We considered the 2019 issues about his wife’s assessment, but we have not investigated the older points as they are too old for us to consider now.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman