London Borough of Redbridge (19 017 164)

Category : Adult care services > Domiciliary care

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 28 Jan 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms Y on behalf of her mother Mrs X complains about the standard of care provided and in particular the issue of missed care calls. She also complains about the Council’s failure to properly investigate her complaints and its failure to complete an adult safeguarding investigation. The Council’s failure to act promptly to investigate the complaints means facts were never established regarding missed calls and the other issues. The Council also delayed the safeguarding procedure meaning no conclusion was reached.

The complaint

  1. Ms Y, on behalf of her mother Mrs X, complains about the standard of care provided by Hope Superjobs Limited. In particular she complains that 56 care calls were missed in a three month period; there was a lack of communication; carers were often inexperienced and submitted timesheets were inaccurate.
  2. Ms Y also complains about the Council’s failure, as the commissioner for these care services, to properly communicate and to provide a comprehensive response to her complaints instead carrying out safeguarding investigations which failed to establish facts and reach conclusions.
  3. Ms Y says the lack of carers put pressure on her and her family as they had to step in and provide the missed care. She says her mother is paying the full cost for the care provided and the continued problems and lack of explanation is frustrating and stressful. Ms Y says the missed calls meant her mother’s needs were neglected.

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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 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)
  1. 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. As part of the investigation, I have:
    • considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
    • discussed the issues with the complainant;
    • sent my draft decision to both the Council and the complainant and taken account of their comments in reaching my final decision.

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What I found

  1. Hope Superjobs Ltd provided care for Mrs X from August to December 2017. Mrs X is a self funder and so pays the full cost of the care provided. The Council commissioned and arranged the care package. It paid Hope Superjobs Ltd and then sent an invoice to Mrs X and she would pay the Council.
  2. The agency was contracted to provide three care calls per day; morning, lunchtime and evening. Ms Y says that she called the care agency about the missed calls but got no response. She says she also emailed it but no response was provided.
  3. Ms Y says she made a formal written complaint to the Council in November 2017. In response to my enquiries, the Council refers to a complaint dated 31 October from Ms Y. Ms Y says the October complaint was about a different issue. The Council did not provide a full response to the November complaint until September 2018, over 10 months later.
  4. The Council’s response referred to a meeting with Ms Y in April 2018 where discussion took place about dealing with matters as an adult safeguarding issue. Ms Y said that she did not want the matter to be progressed as a safeguarding issue but wanted the matter to be treated as a complaint. Hope Superjobs Ltd were no longer providing care for Mrs X and so Ms Y did not consider there to be safeguarding issues directly affecting her mother. However, the Council decided it would deal with the outstanding matters through the safeguarding process.
  5. A safeguarding strategy meeting was held on 18 September 2018. The minutes of that meeting show that representatives of Hope Superjobs Ltd attended along with Mrs X’s social worker and contract officers from the Council. The workers from Hope Superjobs Ltd said they would need time to check the timesheets and care log records as they had no previous knowledge of the missed calls.
  6. There was a further safeguarding strategy meeting held on 24 October 2018. The Council has not provided a copy of the minutes of this meeting. However, it wrote to Ms Y on 30 November 2018 to update the situation. It said that Hope Superjobs Ltd acknowledged it had not carried out some of the care calls. It said the care provider also claimed the family had cancelled some visits. It noted the care agency had not provided any documents to verify this.
  7. The Council said the safeguarding investigation was closed at the strategy meeting on 24 October 2018 but shortly afterwards a decision was made to reopen the investigation. It said it could therefore not give Ms Y an outcome on the complaint about missed calls until the safeguarding process was concluded.
  8. In respect of the complaint about communication from Hope Superjobs Ltd the Council said it was unable to take a view and that it was not responsible for correspondence management by contracted providers.
  9. Ms Y contacted the Council again in response to the complaint response dated 30 November. She raised issue with the comments made by the Council in that letter. The Council responded on 8 March 2019. It said it was in the process of organising another safeguarding strategy meeting within the next three weeks and that it would invite the family to attend. It said it would be asking the care agency to provide evidence of contact between it and Ms Y and for full details and explanation for the missed calls. It said this would be included in the safeguarding report.
  10. The Council wrote to Hope Superjobs Ltd on 12 March 2019 asking for further information about the missed calls and communication issues. Hope Superjobs Ltd responded on 15 March saying it did not consider it needed to re-engage or attend a further safeguarding meeting. The Council contacted the care agency on 4 July and offered a mediation meeting. Hope Superjobs Ltd stated on 23 July 2019 that it would not engage in any further safeguarding process.
  11. The Council wrote again to Ms Y on 13 September 2019 saying this was its response to her formal complaint. It apologised for the delay in responding.
  12. The Council told Ms Y that Hope Superjobs Ltd had not provided the information requested in respect of the safeguarding investigation. It said has asked for robust contract monitoring of the agency to ensure it meets it contractual obligations. In response to other issues, it said officers could not recall a specific time when they did not communicate with Ms Y in a timely manner. It said a change of social worker had been organised. It said issues with timesheets would be discussed further with the care provider and it had decided not to levy the administrative fee of £153.90 for the period April 2019 to April 2020. It said it would carry out a review of Mrs X’s care and support plan and would discuss the issue of the high volume of different carers at the next provider forum.
  13. The Council responded to my draft decision in November 2020 and said it had been in contact with Hope Sugerjobs Limited and it intended to hold a new safeguarding strategy meeting before the end of 2020. It confirmed this took place on 14 December 2020.

Analysis

  1. Ms Y complains about the standard of care provided by Hope Superjobs Limited to her mother. In particular she complains that 56 care calls were missed in a three month period; there was a lack of communication; carers were often inexperienced and submitted timesheets were inaccurate.
  2. The Council failed to promptly investigate Ms Y’s complaints when first made in November 2017. This was while Hope Superjobs Ltd were providing care to Mrs X. It is always easier to establish facts nearer to the time the events happened. In this case, the Council delayed looking at the complaint and so did not get information from Hope Superjobs about the missed calls and the other care issues.
  3. I have seen copies of the care logs for the period of August to December 2017 which do indicate around 40 calls were missed. However, the logs do not explain why the calls were missed. I am not persuaded it would now be possible to establish what happened in 2017 and the reasons for the missed calls.
  4. The Council’s failure to promptly investigate Ms Y’s complaints in November 2017 and the continued delays mean the facts have never been established. This is fault and leaves Ms Y feeling dissatisfied. Mrs X was paying in full for her care and so should not have been charged for any missed calls. I cannot establish the number of calls that Mrs X has in effect been overcharged for and so cannot recommend a refund. However, I consider a payment should be made to recognise that she has been overpaid and for Ms Y’s time and trouble in pursuing matters that should have been concluded much sooner than actually happened.
  5. Ms Y also complains about the Council’s failure, as the commissioner for these care services, to properly communicate and to provide a comprehensive response to her complaints instead carrying out safeguarding investigations which failed to establish facts and reach conclusions.
  6. The Council closed and then re-opened the safeguarding investigation. I do not consider it was fault for it to review the decision to close the safeguarding investigation but then it failed to take prompt action to investigate further. As a result, Hope Superjobs Ltd withdrew from the process and no conclusion was ever reached. This is fault.
  7. The London Multi-Agency Adult Safeguarding Policy and Procedure sets out the principles of safeguarding and the action to take to investigate allegations of neglect and abuse. It states the importance of taking timely action and that cases should be proactively monitored to ensure drift does not occur potentially putting other people at risk.
  8. In this case, the delays and lack of action indicate that no-one took responsibility for the safeguarding investigation. It also suggests there was no management overview to ensure a proper conclusion and prevent drift.
  9. The policy also provides details of how to close any safeguarding enquiry, who to contact and how to ensure any agreed outcomes are followed up. In this case, after Hope Superjobs Ltd refused to engage further it would appear that the matter was dropped. There was no further safeguarding strategy meeting and I have not seen any evidence that shows a final outcome was recorded. I consider this is fault.
  10. The Council is now continuing with the safeguarding procedure. I am pleased to not this, despite the considerable delays, and trust it will notify Ms Y of the outcome.
  11. Ms Y provided me with a copy of the complaint response dated 13 September 2019. In this letter the Council identified seven actions to be taken forward. As part of my enquiries to the Council I asked it to provide information to show that it had in fact taken the action. In response the Council said that after exploring its records it was unable to locate the letter and could find no reference to any commitment to undertake robust contract monitoring or other actions. I note the Council never made contact with me to ask for a copy of the letter. The fact the Council cannot find a copy of this letter is fault and indicates poor record keeping.
  12. At the draft decision stage, I sent a copy of this letter to the Council. It has now provided information showing that most of the seven actions have been completed. It says it will further discuss the issues of inconsistencies in the timesheets with the care provider. While it says significant concerns are raised at the provider forums, there is no evidence or confirmation this has happened.
  13. The Council says that since these issues took place it has improved its working processes regarding safeguarding investigations. It also says that its quality assurance team undertook visits to service users receiving services from Hope Superjobs Ltd in January 2018. It says that from January 2020 it has changed the number of providers and is now using just two for all new care packages and is in the process of transferring existing cases. It also requires the new providers to use and electronic call monitoring system which identifies how much time each care worker spends on individual care calls. It says this will ensure better record keeping and enable it to better investigate claims of missed calls.
  14. I note the Council removed its annual administration charge from Mrs X’s account for the year 2019/20. Ms Y believes the Council should not make such a charge. I am satisfied an administrative charge can be made and I am not persuaded there is any basis to cancel it for the year 2020/21.

Agreed action

  1. To remedy the injustice caused as a result of the fault identified in this case the Council, within one month of my final decision, should:

Apologise to Ms Y and Mrs X for its fault;

Pay Mrs X £250 to recognise the uncertainty caused by the failure to establish how many care calls were missed and whether she has been overcharged. This amount can be offset against any monies owed to the Council by Mrs X;

Pay Ms Y £150 to recognise her time and trouble in pursuing this complaint which could have been avoided if the Council had taken prompt complaint action;

Consider the letter dated 13 September 2019 (copy now provided) and provide information to show that it carried out the seven actions detailed in it. It has provided evidence of five actions complete but there are two actions outstanding; and

Review its complaint process record keeping to ensure documents are properly retained.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation with a finding of fault for the reasons explained in this statement. The Council has agreed to implement the actions I have recommended. These appropriately remedy any injustice caused by fault.
  2. Under our information sharing agreement, we will share this decision with the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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