Suffolk County Council (23 004 587)

Category : Adult care services > Assessment and care plan

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 20 Feb 2024

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms C complains the Council failed to properly assess her needs, provide services, and support her to move into independent living. The Council is at fault for failing to reassess Ms C when there was a change in circumstances, raise her expectations about services it would provide, and support her through a transition period. To remedy the complaint the Council has agreed to apologise to Ms C and make her a symbolic payment. It will also remind staff about the need to review needs when there is a change in circumstances.

The complaint

  1. The complainant who I call Ms C complains the Council failed to properly assess her need for support. Ms C also complains the Council commissioned service “Leading Lives”, who I refer to as the “Care Provider”, failed to carry out agreed actions and to support Ms C’s move to independent living.
  2. Ms C says she has had time, anxiety, and frustration in trying to deal with these matters herself. She also says the Council’s actions have affected her mental well-being and her ability to engage with support services.

Back to top

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 significant injustice, or that could cause injustice to others in the future we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. We investigate complaints about councils and certain other bodies. Where an individual, organisation or private company is providing services on behalf of a council, we can investigate complaints about the actions of these providers. (Local Government Act 1974, section 25(7), as amended)
  3. If we are satisfied with an organisation’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 discussed Ms C’s complaint with her and considered information she provided. I asked the Council questions and for documents. I considered:-
    • the Council’s response to my enquiries;
    • Care Act 2014 and the associated Care and Support Statutory Guidance;
    • Ms C’s assessments and support plans;
    • Short-Term Enablement Service for People with Learning Disabilities and/or Autism Policy (STAP);
    • case records and communication between the Council and Ms C.
  2. Ms C, the Care Provider and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

Back to top

What I found

Background information

  1. Ms C has complex needs and finds it difficult to trust professionals. Ms C asked the Council for help so she could maintain her independence whilst living with her parents.

What should have happened

  1. Sections 9 and 10 of the Care Act 2014 says councils must carry out an assessment for any adult with an appearance of need for care and support. The assessment must be of the adult’s needs and how they impact on their wellbeing and the results they want to achieve. It must also involve the individual and where suitable their carer or any other person they might want involved.
  2. The Care Act 2014 says councils must provide a care and support plan. The care and support plan should consider what needs the person has, what they want to achieve, what they can do by themselves or with existing support and what care and support may be available in the local area.
  3. Short-Term Enablement Service for People with Learning Disabilities and/or Autism Policy, (STAP) says it provides short-term enablement support and assessments to people who are over 18. Paragraph 2.3 says it includes:-
  4. “Short-term Skills Development provides support to develop skills address immediate support needs, and identify any ongoing and longer-term support needs. People will be supported to reach short-term goals and learn new skills which will all focus on ensuring they live an ordinary life in their community.”
  5. The service should complete a skills assessment based on the outcomes the person and the practitioner want to achieve. Paragraph 5.1 says, “Skills assessments will involve meeting with the Person, potentially in several different settings, over a period to identify what skills and capabilities the Person has or does not have in the area/s the referring Social care Practitioner has based the referral upon.”
  6. Paragraph 5.2 says “For each piece of work, the duration will be agreed with the source of the referral with outcomes being clearly identified, although the aim is for most referrals/outcomes to be achieved in around 6 weeks. This will be reviewed regularly between the Provider, SW Services, and the Person. The timeframe of review will be agreed on an individual basis but will occur at least every 4 weeks.
  7. At the end of the agreed period, the outcomes of the work, including options to meet longer-term ongoing needs, shall be reported to SW Services. The Provider will report if the Person being supported:
    • Does not require continued support at the end of the short-term enablement period, or
    • Will require longer-term support and what this is likely to be.
  8. The Provider shall complete a Care Act Assessment in accordance with the Care Act for all People referred to the service unless there is a current Care Act Assessment on LAS that is still an accurate reflection of the Person’s current situation. The Care Act Assessment will be returned to SW Services along with details of what longer-term support is required. SW Services will then assess the Person to determine their Personal Budget and will arrange longer-term support for the Person”

What happened

  1. In March 2022 the Council referred Ms C to the Care Provider to complete STAP goals. These included support with planning her week, manage her nutrition and meals and to feel healthier. The Care Provider assigned a worker, who I refer to as Z. Ms C built up a good relationship with Z who visited on several occasions. This was a breakthrough for Ms C as she found it difficult to trust professionals as she felt they had let her down in the past.
  2. In June Ms C told Z that her parents were moving house and she needed support to move into independent living. Z records agreeing to support Ms C with accessing housing both through the Council’s “Gateway” system and privately rented housing. Z records the move to alternative housing as a priority.
  3. Z spoke to the assigned social worker who I refer to as officer X. Officer X records, “We agreed Z could go off STAP with Ms C with her current situation, but Z needs to be clearer in her role to avoid becoming a PA”. Officer X told Z to support Ms C with a housing application and to then end her intervention. This was because there had been little progress on the original STAP objectives and because Ms C’s current focus was on moving. Officer X was aware this would be difficult as Ms C had built up a relationship with Z.
  4. Z met with Ms C on 28 June explaining her intervention would end. Z sent a confirmation letter on 6 July enclosing a guide on setting up Gateway, the action Ms C needed to take to claim benefits and their discussion about privately renting.
  5. Ms C’s advocate wrote to officer X expressing her concern about the intervention ending. Ms C had unusually built up a good relationship with Z and needed continued help to move into independent living. Z had also discussed changing the STAP to reflect a move to independent living and returning to the original STAP goals once Ms C moved.
  6. Officer X responded to Ms C acknowledging the conflicting accounts, confirming the case was closed and how to make a referral in the future. Officer X also confirmed Z offered ongoing support and advice to help Ms C find somewhere to live.
  7. On 22 July the Council sent Ms C a completed care assessment. It said Ms C had no eligible needs. It included information Ms C had previously provided and Z’s analysis on what she had observed.
  8. By July Ms C had found a two bedroomed property which she could rent privately. Ms C texted Z on 25 July asking for help with her benefits and a supporting letter for her need for two bedrooms. Z responded saying Ms C needed to contact the Citizen Advice centre for help with her benefits; and that she would get advice on if she could provide a supporting letter for housing. Ms C later also asked Z for help with a new STAP referral as the process was time consuming and there was a waiting list for support. Z did not respond.
  9. Following Ms C’s complaint the Council completed a reassessment and assessed her as eligible for six hours of weekly support. The Council has accepted Z blurred the boundaries with Ms C; but as the Council did not employ Z it could take no further action.
  10. Ms C says she trusted Z and she let her down. Ms C says Z’s actions affected both her mental health and her ability to trust professionals in the future.

Was there fault causing injustice?


  1. The Council commissioned the Care Provider to support Ms C. Z met with Ms C built up a relationship with her and agreed several achievable tasks within the intervention period. There was no dispute about the tasks originally agreed, I therefore find no fault in either the original referral or the initial actions of the Care Provider and the Council.
  2. However during Z’s interaction with Ms C it became clear her primary focus had changed and she needed help to find accommodation. At this point the Care Provider and Council failed to change the STAP goals or refer Ms C for a Care Act assessment to look at her longer term needs. The failure to do so was not in line with either the STAP procedure or Care Act guidance and is fault.
  3. In line with the STAP the Council completed a Care Act assessment after its intervention with Ms C. It does not appear Ms C was involved in the assessment and it failed to identify support needs. This was fault.
  4. Z also blurred the professional boundaries by offering Ms C informal help over the phone after the STAP had ended and for tasks not included in them. Officer X took no action to stop Z and in her email to Ms C’s advocate appears to approve them. These failings amount to fault.
  5. There is dispute about what specific further actions Z agreed to complete for Ms C outside the STAP. It appears Z provided information about certain housing choices but did not follow through on a supporting letter for a two bedroom property or with Ms C’s benefits. Z did not properly end her relationship with Ms C choosing not to respond to texts rather than explaining she would have to end the support. The failure to properly end the relationship was fault.
  6. The Council has accepted there was a blurring of the professional boundaries but says this was the responsibility of the Care Provider. The Care Provider was a Council commissioned service and is responsible for actions taken on its behalf. While I welcome the Council’s acceptance of fault, I consider it is responsible for not addressing the issue earlier and through its role as commissioner.


  1. The Council and Care Provider were aware of Ms C’s complex difficulties including those with trusting professionals. While I consider Z acted with the best of intents her failure to maintain a professional boundary and make promises, she could not keep, compounded Ms C’s distrust of professionals and caused her anxiety and distress.
  2. When considering complaints we make findings based on the balance of probabilities. This means that we look at the available relevant evidence and decide what was more likely to have happened.
  3. STAP focuses on independence and wellbeing. It therefore seems more likely than not that had the Council reviewed the STAP objectives or properly reassessed Ms C earlier she would have received Council support for transition into independent living. I therefore consider the Council’s failure caused Ms C distress, anxiety, and a loss of service. She also had time and trouble in pursuing Z and the Council for extra support.

Back to top

Agreed action

  1. I have found fault in the actions of the Council and the Care Provider acting on behalf of the Council. When a council commissions another organisation to provide services on its behalf it remains responsible for those services and for the actions of the organisation providing them. So, although I found fault with the actions of the Care Provider, I only made recommendations to the Council. The Council has agreed to take the following actions to remedy Ms C’s injustice and to improve future services:-
  2. Within one month of the final decision the Council will:
      1. apologise to Ms C for the blurring of professional boundaries, failing to properly review Ms C’s needs after a change in circumstances and provide her with services;
      2. pay Ms C £500. A symbolic payment for the distress and anxiety the Council’s failures have caused her and in acknowledgement that this would have affected her mental wellbeing and her relationship with professionals in the future.
  3. Within three months of the final decision the Council will:-
      1. remind staff about the importance of reviewing STAP goals when there is a change in circumstances and the need for a properly completed Care Act assessment when the service ends;
      2. use this complaint to remind staff about the importance of professional boundaries and providing clarity about roles and responsibilities;
      3. through commissioning with the Care Provider ensure that it has policies in place and staff are aware about professional boundaries.
  4. The Council should provide us with evidence it has complied with the above actions.

Back to top

Final decision

  1. I have found fault in the actions of the Council and the Care Provider acting on behalf of the Council which has caused Ms C injustice. I consider the agreed actions above are suitable to remedy the complaint. I have now completed my investigation and closed the 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