Kent County Council (21 002 456)

Category : Adult care services > Assessment and care plan

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 23 Mar 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Miss X complained about the way the Council responded to her concerns when she was unable to get the support it had said she needed. This caused a delay in the help she needed to sort out the problem. We find the Council was at fault and recommend it apologise, pay Miss X £300 and agree a communication plan with her.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Miss X, complained that the Council:
    • Did not provide enough support when she lost a personal assistant and only had 4 hours of personal assistant support when she should have had 17 hours.
    • Did not deal with her complaint about this adequately.
  2. Miss X says she lost her personal assistant in December 2020 and this left her struggling to get out into the community, to communicate and deal with appointments. She would like the Council to ensure she gets the support she needs to enable her to live a full and rewarding life.

Back to top

The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  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)

Back to top

How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information from the Complainant and from the Council.
  2. I sent both parties a copy of my draft decision for comment and took account of the comments I received in response.

Back to top

What I found

What happened

  1. Miss X received 17 hours of support from the Council, part of which she received through a direct payment which she used to employ a personal assistant. She received the rest in support from an agency.
  2. On one day in mid November 2020, Miss X called the Council four times and left messages asking for a call back to rearrange a visit that she had missed. Five days later, she called again. Miss X’s usual worker was on leave, and she had been dealing with another officer who had not returned her call. She said it made her feel as if she was going round in circles. The call taker promised to get one of three people to call back by the end of the day but no one called. Miss X called again the following day. She received an email from the Council apologising for not calling back. The interim worker had been tied up with emergency work for the last few days and would be in touch as soon as possible.
  3. At the beginning of December, Miss X met, virtually, with the senior practitioner and the manager. She said she was confused about what support she should get with her personal assistant as she had been left to recruit on her own and was struggling. She was waiting for money to allow her to advertise and recruit another personal assistant. She said she currently received six hours of support from one personal assistant and five hours from the agency. She was unhappy because the agency worker did not arrive the previous week and this week the agency had sent a new worker without telling her. The Council suggested an agency recruiting for her. They agreed Miss X would have a review and the new care and support plan would include clear direction about what is expected by each party. This included Miss X, the personal assistant(s), case managers and the direct payments team.
  4. In mid December, Miss X asked the Council to add the funds for the agency support to her direct payment so she could arrange all her support using her direct payment. The Council advised Miss X to continue with the current arrangement while the Council explored other options and reviewed Miss X’s care and support plan. It said it would not be able to do this before Christmas but this would mean her support needs would be met.
  5. Miss X’s main personal assistant took unpaid leave until mid January and Miss X was left with only five hours support a week. The Council arranged the agency (agency B) to help Miss X with recruiting another personal assistant, but it could not meet with her until early January. Miss X made 16 calls to the Council over ten days and got no response. She complained because she was short of 12 hours a week support and had no acknowledgment or returned call. The Council responded in January 2021 and accepted that it had not returned her calls over ten days after which it did respond by email.
  6. By early January 2021, Miss X had reduced the agency support to two hours because the support it provided was limited because of the COVID-19 lockdown. At the meeting with agency B and the Council, Miss X said she was cancelling agency A because it was not reliable. Agency B agreed to provide the support discussed.
  7. Miss X was unhappy with the Council’s continuing lack of response to her calls and asked for a change of social worker. Miss X had difficulties dealing with new people, so it was difficult for her to adjust to telephoning someone different when her worker was not available. She agreed to wait a few days rather than speak to someone different. Miss X says the Council’s delayed responses to her contact caused her significant stress and anxiety.
  8. In March, Miss X complained about the lack of help from her key worker. She said she did not understand why she had to sort out her support and an advocate and thought the Council should be helping with this. She said she was still only receiving four hours support when she needed 17 hours. The Council said the key worker had been in regular contact since January and offered to find temporary agency support while Agency B helped Miss X recruit a new personal assistant.
  9. Miss X says her support has since settled down, but she continues to have difficulty with the lack of response from the Council. She says she can never speak to her social worker, or her manager, who are “always on leave or in a meeting”. Every time she says her name, she gets told they’re not available. Everything builds up and she struggles.
  10. The Council says another agency took over Miss X’s support from Agency A. Miss X receives 13 hours of support and her social worker continues to support Miss X to return to a direct payment so she can employ personal assistants again.
  11. Throughout these events, COVID-19 restrictions impacted significantly on the availability of both the Council’s services and those it had commissioned. This meant the Council could not always make sure Miss X’s needs were met.

Was there fault which caused injustice?

  1. Miss X went for several months without the support the Council had said she needed. The Council is responsible for ensuring Miss X’s needs were met where possible. Although it is not responsible for employing personal assistants, it is responsible for making sure the system works properly. It should ensure people’s needs continue to be met when difficulties with recruitment and other unforeseen circumstances arise.
  2. A significant amount of the support Miss X missed was due to the COVID-19 restrictions over which the Council had no control. However, the Council has acknowledged there were times when it did not return calls or emails, or even acknowledged Miss X’s contact. It apologised for this. However, this was fault and caused Miss X significant, undue stress and anxiety.
  3. I have concluded that the Council and Miss X have significantly different views on what Miss X should expect in respect of a response to contact. On one occasion, the Council explained to her that one officer was not often available immediately and she would potentially have to wait a few days to speak to them. This was after Miss X had sent several emails which remained unanswered. Miss X accepted this once she understood. This is the kind of information she needs to understand when she should expect a response and would help to avoid multiple calls or emails on the same issue. On the balance of probability, I consider a clear and detailed communication plan would assist both Miss X and the Council and I have recommended this below. The plan should detail how quickly Miss X should expect a response in various circumstances, and when it would be appropriate for her to chase a response. For example: what actions to take when if a worker fails to turn up, or in an emergency. Also, what might count as an emergency and what would probably not. It should also set out a plan for escalation. So, if Miss X has not had a response on a general query after, for example, one week, she can contact a specific manager who will undertake to respond in a set timescale. On an issue concerning support failure, this might be, for example, if she hasn’t had a response after 36 hours.

Back to top

Agreed action

  1. To remedy the injustice identified above, I recommended the Council:
    • Apologise to Miss X;
    • Pay Miss X £300 for the loss of support she experienced;
    • Agree a communication plan with Miss X; and
    • Complete these actions within two months of my final decision and submit evidence of this to me. Suitable evidence would be a copy of the letter, confirmation of the payment and the completed communication plan.

Back to top

Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and uphold Miss X’s complaint.

Back to top

Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

Print this page

LGO logogram

Review your privacy settings

Required cookies

These cookies enable the website to function properly. You can only disable these by changing your browser preferences, but this will affect how the website performs.

View required cookies

Analytical cookies

Google Analytics cookies help us improve the performance of the website by understanding how visitors use the site.
We recommend you set these 'ON'.

View analytical cookies

In using Google Analytics, we do not collect or store personal information that could identify you (for example your name or address). We do not allow Google to use or share our analytics data. Google has developed a tool to help you opt out of Google Analytics cookies.

Privacy settings