The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complains the Council failed to provide enough support for Mr Y during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving her to meet all his needs for several months and unable to work. The Council did not respond promptly or constructively to all Mrs X’s requests for support. This left her struggling to meet all Mr Y’s needs. The Council needs to apologise and pay financial redress.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mrs X, complains the Council failed to provide enough support for Mr Y during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving her to meet all his needs for several months and unable to work.
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, sections 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
- This complaint involves events that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government introduced a range of new and frequently updated rules and guidance during this time. We can consider whether the council followed the relevant legislation, guidance and our published “Good Administrative Practice during the response to COVID-19”.
How I considered this complaint
- I have:
- considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mrs X;
- discussed the complaint with Mrs X;
- considered the documents the Council has provided in response to our enquiries;
- considered the Ombudsman’s guidance on remedies; and
- shared a draft of this statement with Mrs X and the Council, and invited comments for me to consider before making my final decision.
What I found
- Mr Y has a learning disability and limited verbal communication skills. He needs support with most activities and cannot be left alone. He lives in Mrs X’s home as part of a shared lives scheme (adult foster placement). Under the agreement, Mrs X provides Mr Y with accommodation, and care and support, so he can live as independently as possible. Her husband and son help support Mr Y when Mrs X is not available but they both work. In 2020 the Council was paying Mrs X £381 a week. It also made an annual payment of £384 for “carer support”. Before COVID-19 Mr Y attended a day centre five days a week. The Council provided transport to collect him at 08.30 and return him home at 16.30, which enabled Mrs X to work. He also had regular contact with his family, including overnight stays.
- When the country went into lockdown in March 2020, day centres closed and Mr Y had to stay at home. This left Mrs X meeting all his care and support needs.
- On 2 April Mrs X told the Council she may be returning to work the following week. The Council told her Mr Y would have to remain with her over Easter, rather than stay with his family as he usually did. It said day centres were unlikely to reopen until the end of the lockdown.
- On 20 April Mrs X told the Council she had developed a new daily routine for Mr Y. However, she said he was missing his usual activities and was showing signs of being unhappy. She did not mention returning to work.
- On 1 June Mrs X told the Council she hoped Mr Y would be able to return to the day centre in the next few weeks and start staying with his family again. She said she was keen to fill the vacancy for a second shared lives placement.
- On 4 June Mrs X received an extra payment of £330.40, which the Council told her was a one-off payment reflecting COVID-19.
- On 10 June Mrs X asked the Council when the day centre would reopen and when Mr Y could stay with his family again. The Council said it would let her know when this was possible. Mrs X did not mention returning to work.
- On 23 June the Government issued guidance on Meeting people from outside your household from 4 July. This provided for two households to meet indoors, including overnight stays, subject to meeting the rules on social distancing.
- After the end of the first lockdown, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No.2) Regulations 2020 came into force on 4 July 2020. Although there was no specific reference to day or respite services, in effect it was possible to reopen them, subject to the necessary risk assessments (and measures) being in place to reduce the risk of the transmission of COVID-19.
- On 9 July Mrs X asked the Council when the day centre would reopen, as she had to go back to work. She also asked when Mr Y would be able to spend time with his family.
- On 10 July, the Council confirmed Mr Y could start staying with his family again. He went to stay with them for a week on 11 July. In an internal e-mail the Council noted Mr Y was one of the more urgent cases for a return to day services.
- On 12 July the Government updated its COVID-19: Guidance for the safe use of multi-purpose community facilities. The updated guidance provided for support groups, which included day centres, to take place in gatherings of groups of 15, subject to meeting the rules on social distancing.
- On 20 July Mrs X spoke to the Council about the impact of Mr Y not going to the day centre. She said this prevented her from going back to work, as Mr Y needed someone with him all the time, and was increasingly stressful for her and not ideal for Mr Y. The Council noted the need to review Mr Y’s care package and identify daytime support until he could go to the day centre five days a week.
- On 31 July the Council told Mrs X an officer would review Mr Y’s needs and it was looking at other support, such as a befriending service.
- On 10 August Mrs X e-mailed the Council asking about support for Mr Y, as it was “becoming too much”. She said:
- she felt like a prisoner as she could not go back to work;
- her husband and son had both been working;
- there were places she wanted to go but could not take Mr Y with her as it would not be fair on him; and
- she would need respite for Mr Y at the end of the month, if his family could not take him.
- to check with Mr Y’s family if they could provide respite at the end of the month;
- if any of the additional carers could provide support; and
- to confirm the dates she wanted to have a break.
- Mr Y’s high level of support needs;
- the stress Mrs X was experiencing;
- the expectation she would return to work on 28 September; and
- Mr Y’s recent weight loss was, according to his GP, probably due to the change in his routine.
Is there evidence of fault by the Council which caused injustice?
- The Council appears to have assumed Mrs X would provide extra support for Mr Y when the country went into lockdown. There is no evidence it discussed with her what support she could provide or consider what support it could provide to take account of the fact Mr Y could no longer attend day services. That was fault by the Council.
- Mrs X first mentioned the possibility of returning to work on 2 April 2020, but did not mention it again until 9 July. On 20 July she made it clear the current arrangement was preventing her from doing so and the level of support she was providing was not sustainable. The Council recognised the need to review Mr Y’s care package with a view to providing additional support. Despite Mrs X writing again on 10 August, it was only after 8 September, when she told the Council she had to return to work on 28 September, that it fixed a date to review Mr Y’s needs. The failure to respond to the urgency of the situation was fault by the Council.
- The Council also failed to respond constructively when the day centre closed down again in January 2021. It was the Council’s responsibility to ensure alternative arrangements were in place. Also, the Council’s dismissal of Mrs X’s request to pay her son to help support Mr Y was not in line with the Government guidance. While these were faults, they did not cause significant injustice as Mr Y’s family agreed to provided regular support while the day centre was closed for the second time.
- The Council’s faults left Mrs X meeting all Mr Y’s needs for longer than should have been the case and prevented her from returning to work until 28 September 2020.
- I recommended the Council:
- within four weeks writes to Mrs X apologising for the failure to consider providing alternative support in March 2020, the delay in addressing her specific request for help in July 2020 and the failure to respond constructively to her requests for additional support in 2021;
- pays her £1,000 to remedy the injustice caused by failing to offer alternative support to Mrs X and the delay in taking action which enabled her return to work; and
- pays her £250 for the time and trouble she has been put to in pursuing her complaint.
The Council has agreed to do this.
- I have completed my investigation on the basis of fault causing injustice which requires a remedy.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman