Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 19 Mar 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs Z has complained on behalf of her son, Mr Y. Mrs Z complains the Council has failed to provide Mr Y with a social worker for a prolonged period of time. She says this delayed his wish to move closer to his family. The Council was at fault for delays in providing Mr Y a social worker which in turned delayed his ability to move closer to his family. Also, the Council was at fault for failing to respond to Mrs Z in a reliable and responsible manner. This caused both Mr Y and Mrs Z and injustice and so the Ombudsman has recommended a remedy.
- The complainant, who I refer to as Mrs Z, is making a complaint on behalf of her son, who I refer to as Mr Y. Mrs Z says the Council has delayed in allocating her son a social worker. She adds that the Council has not replied to her communications on the subject.
- In addition, Mrs Z complains the Council is not assisting in Mr Y’s wish to move to Redbridge with the help of a social worker. Mrs Z says this is a continuing matter and the Council has not provided any update about supporting Mr Y’s wishes to move from his assisted accommodation.
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).
How I considered this complaint
- I have reviewed Mrs Z’s complaint to the Ombudsman and Council. I have also considered the responses of the Council, Mr Y’s care and support plan and applicable legislation. Both Mrs Z and the Council received an opportunity to comment on a draft of this decision before reaching a final view.
What I found
- Some people need extra care or support, practical or emotional, to lead an active life. The need for social care may arise after an accident or severe illness, when a person becomes frailer with age, or as a young disabled person leaving home. A care and support plan is a detailed document setting out what services will be provided by the local authority, how they will meet the person’s needs, when they will be provided, and who will provide them. A care and support plan should be reviewed regularly by the local authority once it is in place, at least once a year or more often if necessary.
- In circumstances where an adult may have needs for care and support, Section 9 of the Care 2014 places a duty on local authorities to conduct a needs assessment. This is to decide whether the adult does have needs for care and support and if the adult does, what those needs are. Once a needs assessment has been completed, the Care and Support (Eligibility Criteria) Regulations 2014 is used to identify the level of needs which must be met by a local authority. Where a local authority has determined a person has eligible needs, it has a legal duty to meet these needs, subject to meeting the financial criteria.
Chronology of events
- Since 2018, the Council has maintained a care and support plan for Mr Y which identifies several eligible needs while he lives in supported accommodation. To support Mr Y the Council has and continues to provide him with support from social workers.
- In early 2016, the Council allocated Mr Y Social Worker A who worked within the Council’s Children’s, Young People and Family Services team (CYPFS). The Council say that due to Mr Y leaving full-time education he moved from CYPFS to its Adult Social Care services team (ASC). Further, it said this meant Mr Y needed a new social worker since the skills and knowledge of social workers working within the two services vary. On that basis, Social Worker A stopped providing support to Mr Y in February 2019.
- Between February and December 2019, the Council left Mr Y without a social worker to help promote the eligible needs of his care and support plan. Council records show Mrs Z contacted the Council ten times in respect Mr Y being allocated a new social worker and his wish to move to Redbridge. However, the case records show that Mrs Z did not always receive a response. Further, the Council’s responses were often limited to telling Mrs Z that Mr Y was being transferred to ASC and it would allocated him a social worker when possible.
- In January 2020, the Council allocated Mr Y Social Worker B who worked within the Council’s ASC team. The Council say Social Worker B left the Council’s employment in April 2020 and therefore stopped providing support to Mr Y.
- Between April 2020 and September 2020, the Council left Mr Y without a social worker. Council records show Mrs Z contacted the Council three times during this period about allocating Mr Y a new social worker; there is no record the Council replied to Mrs Z’s contacts.
- In September 2020, the Council allocated Mr Y Social Worker C who continues to provide him support. The Council say Social Worker C is helping Mr Y with his wish to move to Redbridge to be closer to his family.
- The Council told me its social workers facilitate implementing care and support plans which include the eligible needs it must provide to those needing support. On that basis, it is my view that for the Council to meet Mr Y’s eligible needs in compliance with the Act and Regulations, then the Council needs to provide him with a suitable social worker.
- The evidence shows there was a delay in providing Mr Y a social worker between February and December 2019. The Council told me this was due to increased demand and staff shortages. In mitigation, the Council say that Social Worker A maintained contact with Mrs Z during this period. However, it is my view that such contact was limited to assisting Mr Y getting a new social worker and not meeting his eligible needs. For that reason, I consider the Council was at fault for failing to provide a social worker to give effect to Mr Y’s care and support plan. It was also at fault for failing to respond to Mrs Z in timely and responsible manner.
- In addition, there was a further period of delay between April and September 2020 when Mr Y did not have a social worker. However, the Council said that in March 2020, all social worker activity was suspended in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. It told its social workers to make visits strictly for safeguarding purposes only. Further, the Council explained that this impacted on the helping Mr Y’s move to alternative accommodation.
- In my view, I consider the circumstances of the pandemic likely impacted the ability of the Council to provide Mr Y a social worker between April and September 2020. I also believe the circumstances made it difficult for the Council to carry out Mr Y’s wish to move. This is because many supporting living providers were not accepting new residents because of possible transmission of the virus. That said, the Council failed to relay any of this information to Mrs Z despite her making repeated contact during this period. I do not consider there was any reasonable justification for the Council not responding to Mrs Z. For that reason, the Council was at fault for failing to respond to Mrs Z.
- Because of the fault identified above, I consider Mr Y suffered a significant injustice in the form of not having a social worker for a prolounged period of time. This meant the Council was not carrying out Mr Y’s eligible needs in compliance with the Act and Regulations. Further, I consider the Council made this injustice worse by failing to respond to Mrs Z. Considering Mr Y first expressed his wish to move closer to his family in 2019 to Social Worker A, it is my view he would likely have been able to move closer to family sooner, but for the fault.
- To remedy the injustice identified above, Council will take the following actions:
- By no later than 16 April 2021, the Council should apologise in writing to Mr Y for not providing him a social worker between February and December 2019 to meet and monitor his eligible needs. It should also explain in writing to Mr Y why he was not provided with a social worker between April and September 2020. The Council should apologise to Mr Y for not explaining this was due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Further, the Council should pay Mr Y £500 in recognition of the fault identified.
- By no later than 16 April 2021, the Council should apologise in writing to Mrs Z about failing to communicate with her in a reliable and timely manner. The Council should also pay Mrs Z £150 in recognition of her time and trouble spent pursuing her complaint.
- By no later than 11 June 2021, the Council’s ASC team will review its processes about the transition of customers from CYPFS to ASC and allocating social workers without delay.
- By no later than 11 June 2021, the Council’s ASC team will review and improve its communications policy to ensure timely and reliable responses to its customers.
- The Council was at fault for delays in providing Mr Y a social worker which in turned delayed his ability to move closer to his family. Also, the Council was at fault for failing to respond to Mrs Z in a reliable and responsible manner. This caused both Mr Y and Mrs Z and injustice and so the Ombudsman has recommended a remedy.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman