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Northumberland County Council (20 001 884)

Category : Adult care services > Direct payments

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 02 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr C complained the Council has failed to increase Mr X’s Personal Budget along with inflations, as a result of which he does not receive enough money anymore to meet his needs. We found the Council identified the correct steps to resolve the issue, which was a reassessment of Mr X’s needs. As such, we discontinued our investigation because nothing further could be achieved for Mr X.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr C, complained to us on behalf of his son, whom I shall call Mr X. Mr C complained the Council has failed to increase his son’s Personal Budget along with inflations over the last few years, as a result of which he does not receive enough money anymore to meet his needs.

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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. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  3. 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. I considered the information we received from Mr C and the Council. I shared a copy of my draft decision statement with Mr C and the Council and considered any comments I received, before I made my final decision.

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What I found

Relevant Legislation and guidance

  1. A council must carry out an assessment for any adult with an appearance of need for care and support. If a council decides a person is eligible for care following an assessment, it should prepare a care and support plan which specifies the needs identified in the assessment, says whether and to what extent the needs meet the eligibility criteria and specifies the needs the council is going to meet and how this will be done. The council should give a copy of the care and support plan to the person.
  2. The care and support plan must set out a personal budget. A personal budget is a statement that specifies how much it will cost the council to meet the eligible needs, the amount a person must contribute and the amount the council must contribute. The personal budget should be enough to meet the identified eligible needs.

What happened

  1. Mr X received a Personal Budget from the Council, which Mr C has used to pay for his son’s activities and accessing the community. Mr C complained to the Council in January 2020 that his son’s Personal Budget had not increased over the last few years, even though the cost of accessing the activities (including petrol) had increased due to inflation. As such, Mr C said the Council should have increased his son’s Personal Budget every year with the rate of inflation. He told the Council that, as a result, his son’s personal budget was no longer enough to meet his assessed need for engaging in activity and accessing the community.
  2. In response to Mr C’s complaint, the Council has carried out the following actions:
    • It explained to Mr C that the amount of the Direct Payment was set up in 2010 to keep his son to pay for activities to help him remain entertained. The money allocated initially for this was on the basis of the amount it would have cost the Council to organise day care for Mr C. It acknowledged that this had not been a helpful way of determining the amount.
    • At Mr X’s care review in August 2019, Mr C did not identify any concerns, he was happy with how the plan was going, and believed his son was progressing in the correct direction.
    • The Council explained to Mr C that the key thing to determine was whether his son’s current Direct Payment is still enough to enable him to pay for the activities he wants and needs to do to meet his needs.
    • It carried out a reassessment of Mr X’s needs, which concluded his needs had not increased.
    • Mr C agreed to write down what activities he had been doing with his son between 24 February 2020 and 8 March 2020 and how much he had spent on them. The Council calculated that the receipts Mr C provided were less than the personal budget his son was receiving. Since then, Mr C has said the actual amount he spent that period was more. As such, the Council has urged Mr C to discuss this further with his son’s allocated social worker to arrive at the accurate amount.
    • It also asked the social worker to discuss with Mr C and his son what kind of activities programme they have developed, to determine whether the level of activities is reasonable given Mr X’s challenging behaviour, and as such if the level of funding is adequate.
  3. Mr C has told me this process has not yet been finalised due to the recent Covid lockdowns. However, he will engage with this process to finalise the assessment, as soon as this is possible again.

Analysis

  1. I discontinue my investigation, because the Council has identified the correct steps in terms of resolving Mr C’s complaint, going forward, and assessing whether his son’s Personal Budget is still enough to meet his needs. I found that with reference to paragraph 3 above, it is unlikely an investigation would add anything to what already has been done or achieved through the Council’s complaint process, or what will be done. Mr X did not suffer a financial injustice during 2020 because the personal budget he received was more than he spent on the reduced activities he was able to do (due to the Covid-19 pandemic) during 2020.

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Final decision

  1. For reasons explained above, I decided to discontinue my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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