The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Ms X complains about the quality of the support the Council provided to the late Mrs Y. Also about the way the Council dealt with her queries and complaints about this, charges and payments. She says she is unclear whether Mrs Y’s finances were in order. The Ombudsman finds the Council at fault in the support provided and dealing with Ms X’s complaints but not at fault in respect of charges and payments. The Council should apologise, pay Ms X £300 and review the complaint handling.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Ms X, complains on behalf of the late Mrs Y. She says the Council failed to respond adequately to her complaints arising from Mrs Y’s move into accommodation at Oakwood Gardens. She says there were several organisations involved including: housing; care; direct payments; payroll and adult social care. Ms X says she complained about:
- Quality of support
- Poor complaint handling
- Incorrect invoicing
- Charges and payments
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)
- 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)
- 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)
- We may investigate a complaint on behalf of someone who has died or who cannot authorise someone to act for them. The complaint may be made by:
- their personal representative (if they have one), or
- someone we consider to be suitable.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 26A(2), as amended)
- Ms X is Mrs Y’s daughter and had powers of attorney at the time of the events complaints described here so is a suitable person to make this complaint.
How I considered this complaint
- I considered information from the Complainant and from the Council.
- I sent both parties a copy of my draft decision for comment and took account of the comments I received in response.
What I found
- Extra care housing is designed to provide varying support to older people as their needs increase. People live in self-contained homes, and schemes usually include on-site care and domestic support, communal facilities, and 24-hour help.
- Direct payments are made to individuals to meet eligible care and support needs. They provide independence, choice and control by enabling people to commission their own care and support to meet their eligible needs. This might involve the person using an agency to provide support, or employing a personal assistant (PA). The local authority has a key role in ensuring that people have relevant and timely information about direct payments so they can decide whether to request them. If they do so, the Council should support them to use and manage the payment properly.
- The Council has contracts in place to support people who use direct payments. These include arrangements for payroll services, employment related advice, and a direct payments’ managed service.
- Mrs Y lived in an extra care housing scheme. The Council had a contract with the housing provider (HC21) to also provide care. Mrs Y received a package of care that she paid for using a direct payment; this included employing Ms X as a personal assistant. A direct payment management organisation (agency A) managed the direct payment account on Mrs Y’s behalf.
- When the direct payment management organisation changed (to agency B), it caused some confusion with invoicing. There had been some unplanned calls were when Mrs Y had activated her alarm pendant for help. Ms X could not reconcile the invoices with the care she believed HC21 had provided to Mrs Y. As Mrs Y’s attorney for finances, she was keen to ensure Mrs Y paid the correct amount.
- Ms X also had concerns about the quality of the care provided by HC21 and in October 2017, she wrote to the management responsible for the scheme. She complained that a carer had not made sure Mrs Y had enough to eat, though this was important for her health condition. The carer had also recorded that she had washed up although that was not true.
- In November, the manager for Oakwood Gardens met with Ms X and told her he would investigate. However, he later wrote to Ms X, and said in future all complaints were to be in Mrs Y’s presence as she had capacity to decide about her own care. The letter to Mrs Y offered £20 and the price of a care call. Ms X says Mrs Y could not read the letter due to sight loss, was upset and wanted to move out of the scheme.
- The Council’s independent living team (ILT) supported Ms X with queries about invoices but the officer involved left the Council. The Council had difficulty finding someone else to help Ms X with her queries. Staff at agency B changed too and this caused more difficulty dealing with the issues that Ms X had raised.
- Ms X complained about this to the Council. She also complained that since the agency B had taken over management of the direct payment account, she had many problems with wages. The social care team leader arranged for agency B to agree how it would communicate with Ms X in future.
- Mrs Y told the Council she was happy with the carers and the care she received.
- HC21 arranged another manager to deal with the complaint and address the care issues.
- The Council’s contract monitoring team visited Oakwood Gardens and the social care team leader contacted Ms X.
- Ms X’s difficulties resolving the issues with HC21 and agency B continued despite many officers’ involvement and discussion between the parties.
- In March, the Council completed a review of Mrs Y’s support. It decided HC21, Mrs Y, and Ms X needed a meeting between them, to resolve the ongoing complaints. The invoice queries with agency B also needed resolving. Ms X asked why HC21 appeared to be charging Mrs Y private rates rather than the Council’s rates. The Council made sure the charges were at the Council rates.
- The Council accepts staff changes and understanding of the issues caused problems. It continued to investigate until it was satisfied that all invoices, and wages, had been paid properly. It instructed agency B to pay an outstanding balance to Ms X and send her a final statement for the closed managed direct payment account.
- Ms X says there were many issues and questions about invoices and charges which she never felt confident had been resolved. She doesn’t know if each of her queries was resolved such as the private rate charges, and an incorrect service charge. She wants only to ensure that everything was paid correctly and where refunds were due, that they were processed. Despite the earlier difficulties resolving her complaints, Ms X says the Council was soon in touch once Mrs Y had died.
Was there fault which caused injustice?
- This was a complicated arrangement which caused Ms X problems in understanding what Mrs Y was paying and what she should pay. Although the Council tried to support her in this, the changing staff and number of organisations involved meant this was never clarified for Ms X. I found the Council was at fault in the way HC21 and agency B dealt with Ms X’s complaints, and this caused Ms X significant and avoidable distress, time and trouble.
- The Council was also at fault in the service provided by HC21 and agency B. These were exacerbated by the issues communicating between the various organisations and teams involved. This also contributed to the distress caused to Ms X.
- I have not included all the details about the issues which arose in this statement because this is unnecessarily distressing for Ms X. However, I have considered carefully, all the information I have seen from the Council. I am satisfied that it has satisfactorily resolved all the issues relating to the invoicing and payroll, and that neither Mrs Y, nor Ms X, has been caused any financial loss. The Council was not at fault here.
- To remedy the injustice caused, I recommended the Council:
- Apologise to Ms X in writing, to include confirmation that all monies due for Mrs Y’s care have been paid.
- Pay Ms X £300 for the distress, time and trouble it caused.
- Review the complaint handling in this case, and consider what improvements have been made, or could be made, to avoid similar problems in future.
- Provide the Ombudsman with evidence of these actions. Suitable evidence might include a copy of the apology, confirmation of the payment and the outcome of the review.
- Complete these actions within two months of the final decision.
- I have completed my investigation and have upheld Ms X’s complaints that the Council failed to respond adequately to her complaints about:
- Quality of support
- Poor complaint handling
- Incorrect invoicing
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman