North Yorkshire County Council (20 002 410)

Category : Adult care services > Assessment and care plan

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 12 Feb 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: the Council delayed completing carers assessments, failed to respond to Ms B’s communications and delayed considering her complaint. That meant Ms B missed out on respite provision in 2019 and 2020 and led to her going to time and trouble to pursue her complaint. An apology, payment to Ms B and procedural changes are satisfactory remedy.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Ms B, complained the Council:
    • delayed completing a carers assessment in 2019 and 2020;
    • failed to clarify what her partner’s direct payment could be spent on;
    • delayed considering her complaint; and
    • failed to respond to her communications.

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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. 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. As part of the investigation, I have:
    • considered the complaint and Ms B's comments;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided.
  2. Ms B and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

Background

  1. Ms B cares for her partner who has ME and chronic fatigue syndrome. Ms B also has chronic fatigue syndrome. Ms B’s partner has received a direct payment to pay for her identified needs for some years. The Council has also provided four weeks respite care provision to enable Ms B and her partner to go away from the home which relieves Ms B of some of her daily household chores as a break. Ms B’s partner regularly does not use all her direct payments money and the Council has recovered surplus funds each year.
  2. The Council carried out an annual review of the partner’s direct payment in March 2019. Ms B chased the Council for an outcome in April and May 2019. The Council reviewed the case in December 2019 but there is no evidence it took action to put the respite payment into place.
  3. The Council contacted Ms B’s partner in January 2020 to arrange the annual review of the direct payment. Ms B asked the Council to ensure the review included a carer assessment as the previous year’s assessment had not been resolved. The Council completed the annual review in February 2020. The Council did not put the respite payment into place at that point.
  4. Ms B contacted the Council in May 2020 to ask it about some items she wanted to spend her partner’s direct payment on. There is no evidence the Council responded to her queries.
  5. In June 2020 the Council allocated the case to an officer to complete a carers assessment. An officer spoke to Ms B in August 2020. Ms B asked again about whether she could use her partner’s direct payment for specified activities. The Council said the revised assessment would consider those matters. Ms B again asked the Council what was happening with the respite fund.

Complaint chronology

  1. Ms B put in a complaint about the lack of respite provision in August 2019. The Council acknowledged receipt in August 2019. Ms B chased the Council in October 2019. The Council apologised for the delay and said it would respond to the complaint. The Council responded in November 2019 and again apologised for the delay. The Council told Ms B it had covered her concerns in team meetings and with officers.
  2. Ms B put in a further complaint in March 2020. The Council responded in July 2020 and again apologised for falling below the standards expected and for the delay. The Council said it would complete the care plan in the next two weeks. The Council apologised for not making a respite payment in 2019. The Council told Ms B there had been a significant underspend on her partner’s direct payment in 2019 though, which they could have used for respite. Ms B asked the Council to escalate the complaint, which it declined to do.
  3. Following a complaint to the Ombudsman the Council agreed it had fallen below the level of service expected. The Council apologised and arranged to complete a new carer assessment in January 2021. The Council also arranged for a respite payment in December 2020 for four weeks respite. The Council offered Ms B £250 to reflect her time and trouble pursuing the complaint.

Analysis

  1. The Council accepts it delayed completing Ms B's carers assessment in 2019 and 2020 which meant Ms B missed out on respite provision. The Council also accepts there was unacceptable delay responding to Ms B's communications and complaint. The Council accepts it delayed responding to Ms B's queries about what she could use her partner’s direct payment for. The Council has taken the following action:
    • apologised for the delays;
    • arranged for a carer's reassessment, which should now have taken place;
    • made a payment for four weeks respite care in December 2020;
    • offered Ms B £250 to reflect her time and trouble in pursuing the complaint;
    • agreed to carry out closer monitoring and more regular supervision of cases to ensure officers receive the required support and guidance;
    • introduced a new escalation process to ensure there are no unnecessary delays;
    • arranged for training for team managers;
    • agreed as part of one-to-one supervisions and team meetings for direct payment assessors to clarify what a direct payment can be used for
    • agreed to hold a team meeting for the complaints team to highlight the importance of effective complaint handling.
  2. For the carer’s assessments, it is clear from the Council's documentation it carried out direct payment reviews and a review of Ms B’s needs as a carer in 2019 and 2020. The issue therefore is what happened with the paperwork following completion of the reviews. The documentary evidence is also clear despite Ms B chasing the Council it failed to put respite provision into place at all in 2019 and failed to put the 2020 provision in place until the end of 2020. Those failures are fault. I welcome the Council's acceptance it was at fault here and willingness to act to put things right. I particularly welcome the Council's procedural changes to ensure there is greater oversight of assessments so these kinds of problems do not occur again. It is clear though failure to make respite care provision in 2019 and until the end of 2020 means Ms B and her partner have missed out on a significant period without any respite.
  3. I appreciate Ms B's partner held unspent funds in her direct payments account and the documentary records show an amount for four weeks respite was included in the direct payment. However, the documentary records also show the respite payment was made separately in 2018 and I have seen no evidence of a similar respite payment being made by the Council in 2019. There was then delay issuing the payment in 2020. As there is nothing in the documentary records I have seen to suggest the Council told Ms B she could use unspent funds to cover respite when it did not make a separate payment I am not surprised Ms B did not feel able to use the unspent funds for that. In those circumstances I consider as well as the £250 the Council has offered Ms B for her time and trouble pursuing the complaint it should also make a further payment of £350 to Ms B to reflect the lost respite provision in 2019 and 2020. In recommending that I am aware the Council has made the funds available to Ms B now. The amount I have recommended is therefore to reflect the impact on Ms B of not being able to take any respite from her caring role in 2019 and 2020. The Council has agreed to my recommendation.
  4. The Council accepts it failed to respond to various communications from Ms B and delayed dealing with her complaint. Those failures are fault. I am satisfied the Council's apology and payment of £250 to reflect the time and trouble Ms B had to go to in pursuing the complaint is satisfactory remedy for this part of the complaint.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of my decision the Council will:
    • apologise to Ms B;
    • pay Ms B £600 to reflect the lost respite provision and the time and trouble she went to pursuing her complaint;
    • provide evidence of the improved monitoring process the Council has introduced to ensure carers assessments are not missed and that actions are followed up on;
    • provide evidence of the new escalation process to ensure no unnecessary delays;
    • provide evidence of the training arranged for team managers;
    • provide evidence of the advice given to direct payment assessors about what direct payments can be used for and how that information should be communicated to service users; and
    • provide details of the advice given to the complaints team about effective complaint handling.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and uphold the complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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