The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained on behalf of Miss Y about the Council’s failure to properly plan for a change in Miss Y’s support worker and about the way the Council responded to his complaint about this. There was fault in the way the care provider, acting on behalf of the Council, advised Miss Y of the change. The Council has already identified learning points which it has fed back to the care provider. There were also faults in the way it responded to Mr Y’s complaint. The Council has agreed to apologise to Mr X and Miss Y for the distress caused by its faults.
- Mr X complains the care provider, acting on behalf of the Council failed to properly plan for the change in Miss Y’s support worker which caused Miss Y unnecessary distress and hindered and delayed her submitting evidence in support of a benefit application. In addition, its complaint response on this matter was inaccurate and it failed to discuss the complaint with Mr X during the investigation.
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, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information supplied by Mr X and have spoken to him on the telephone. I considered the Council’s response to my enquiries.
- I gave Mr X and the Council the opportunity to comment on a draft of this decision. I considered their comments in making my final decision.
What I found
- Miss Y is an adult with asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She has severe social anxiety. She receives one hour of support each week to assist with maintaining her flat, to support her with paperwork and with attending appointments. Miss Y’s support plan stated Miss Y got anxious if times of visits and her support worker changed.
- On 16 April the Care Provider emailed Miss Y. In the email it said ‘from the week commencing 30 April your new support worker will be …’ and named a new support worker.
- The letter attached to the email said ‘following a review of our Outreach support service, we are having to make some small changes to your support times. This is not a decision we have taken lightly, but it will mean your support staff will have minimum travel time between each of their visits which should significantly improve punctuality. We have also create a smaller sized staff team within your area to ensure that if your regular support worker is on holiday or off sick, you will be supported by someone who is much more likely to be familiar with you’. Miss Y did not read the email.
- On 25 April the care provider emailed Miss Y to advise her of the visit time of her new support worker. The team leader also wrote to Miss Y on the same date. They offered to visit to discuss the changes to ensure the new support worker was aware of the work carried out by the previous worker. Miss Y did not read this email.
- On 26 April 2018 the support worker told Miss Y a new support worker was taking her place from the following week. The support worker was in the process of helping Miss Y complete benefit forms and Miss Y also wanted help to submit evidence in support of her application. Miss Y emailed the care provider that day. She said she was just informed about the change in support worker and was unhappy as, due to her mental illness, she struggled to adapt to change. The Care Provider responded and advised Miss Y of the business reasons for the change. It advised it would inform the team leader to aid the transition as much as possible.
- Mr X complained to the Council, on behalf of Miss Y, on 2 May about the change in support worker without proper consideration of Miss Y’s needs. The care provider responded on 3 May. It advised it had emailed Miss Y which was her preferred method of communication and had written to her about the changes. In addition it had coordinated extra support visits from the support worker to ensure the benefit form was completed.
- Miss Y’s new support worker started working with her on 3 May.
- Mr X says the Council misrepresented the complaint so did not respond to it properly. Mr X says his concern was not about completing the benefit form but in providing information to support the benefit application. He says the care provider failed to explain exactly what was communicated to Miss Y about the changes to care, by whom, and when. He considered emailed letters were inadequate in view of Miss Y’s disabilities.
- The Council wrote to Mr X on 10 May 2018. It advised it had read the complaint and the response from the care provider. It considered the care provider had responded to Mr X’s complaint and the points he raised. It considered the care provider made reasonable efforts to inform Miss Y of the change in her support worker and to support her with her benefit application. It decided not to take any further action with the care provider or raise a safeguarding referral.
- Mr X continued to correspond with the care provider. The care provider responded on 16 May. It apologised for the impact the structural change had on Miss Y’s support. It considered the previous response covered the issues raised. It advised if Miss Y required any further assistance with her benefit assessment she should let her team leader know.
- Mr X wrote again. The Care Provider advised it would not comment further as it had investigated the issues raised. The Council also advised it would take no further action so Mr X complained to the Ombudsman.
- Changes in the support provided, particularly to those with certain medical conditions, can be particularly distressing. However that in itself is not fault. The care provider was entitled to change Miss Y’s support arrangements and had business reasons for doing so as part of a wider business change.
- However, given Miss Y’s medical conditions, she was not properly advised of the change and this is fault. The email of 16 April was the first notice Miss Y received that her support worker would be changing in two weeks time. The attached letter made no mention of a change in support worker but suggested the change was to the time of visits.
- Miss Y did not read this or a later email and was not aware her support worker was changing until her support worker told her the week before the change was due to happen. Miss Y’s needs assessment recognised her difficulties in dealing with correspondence and this is one of the areas for which Miss Y received support. It should have ensured Miss Y was aware of the emails. Although the team leader offered to visit, Miss Y was unfamiliar with the team leader so such a meeting could have created additional anxiety rather than help to resolve the situation.
- The Council, in response to my enquiries, said it ‘recognised there was a greater role for the existing support worker to facilitate [Miss Y’s] understanding of the process and to provide support and reassurance around this in a more timely manner. This was particular relevant as it was already an established fact that [Miss Y] struggled to read her correspondence.’ It considered ‘discussions should have been started before the support worker’s final visit and a more planned transition could then have been facilitated.’ The Council has identified some learning points from the transition and has fed these back to the care provider. This is appropriate.
- It is difficult to quantify the impact on Miss Y. It is likely the change in support worker would have always caused Miss Y some distress. However, it is likely this would have been reduced had the transition been managed better.
- The complaint response did not accurately reflect the issues raised. This is fault. The care provider or Council did not offer to speak to Mr X about the complaint. Had it done so it may have responded more accurately to his complaint. This could have avoided the need for Mr X to complain to the Ombudsman.
- The Council was entitled to decide not to carry out a separate investigation of the issues raised and was not at fault. It considered the care provider’s responses and decided not to investigate further. It was satisfied care provider had the opportunity to address the complaint and had done so.
- The Council has agreed to apologise to Miss Y for the increased distress caused by the care provider’s failure to properly plan for the change in her support worker. It has also agreed to apologise to Mr X for the time and trouble caused by the way his complaint was dealt with. It should do this within one month of the date of this final decision.
- I have completed my investigation. I have found fault leading to injustice for which I have recommended a remedy.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman