The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman finds a care provider commissioned by the Council failed to protect Miss B’s belongings when she was detained in hospital. The Council has made a payment to Miss B to cover the loss of her belongings and has agreed to make an additional payment for the distress she suffered.
- Ms C complains that a care provider commissioned by the Council failed to protect her daughter’s belongings and the Council did not take proper remedial action when those belongings went missing.
What I have investigated
- I have considered the events complained of where they are in our jurisdiction. The final section of this statement explains my reasons for not investigating the rest of the complaint.
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)
- The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), 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)
- Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the Care Quality Commission (CQC), we will share this decision with CQC.
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information provided by Ms C, made enquiries of the Council and considered its comments and the information it provided.
- I have written to Ms C and the Council with my draft decision and considered their comments.
What I found
Legal and administrative background
- Section 47 of the Care Act 2014 applies where an adult is admitted to hospital and it appears to the local authority that there is a danger of loss or damage to the adult’s belongings because:
- the adult is unable (whether permanently or temporarily) to protect or deal with them, and
- no suitable arrangements have been or are being made.
- The Council commissioned an organisation (‘Company X’) to provide supported living accommodation for Ms C’s daughter, Miss B.
- After a while, Miss B felt she no longer needed support and intended to move elsewhere. Her social worker, Officer G, served notice on Company X with Miss B’s agreement on 25 May 2017. A few days later Miss B was hospitalised under the Mental Health Act and remained there for some time.
- On 16 June 2017 Company X’s manager sent an email to Officer G reminding her that the notice period was due to end on 23 June and Miss B’s belongings must be removed from the premises on or before that date. She said she had not had any contact with Miss B and asked Officer G to contact Miss B urgently to make arrangements.
- Meantime, the manager telephoned Miss B in hospital and asked her to organise the removal of her belongings. Ms C says that, as a result, Miss B felt under pressure to remove her belongings from the flat and so arranged a removal firm to move and store some of them.
- Officer G spoke to Miss B on 28 June 2017. Miss B said the manager had contacted her to ask her to remove her belongings so she had arranged a removal company and a small container and given a list verbally. She said she had no money left for the removal of the rest of her belongings.
- Officer G sent an email to Company X’s manager on 5 July 2017 asking for an update on the removal of Miss B’s belongings and asking to meet a member of staff on 7 July. She received an automatic response indicating the manager was on annual leave. The message indicated that Mr Y should be contacted in her absence. The social worker telephoned Mr Y on 7 July 2017 and left a message and contact number.
- On 21 July 2017 Officer G left the Council’s employment.
- On 16 August 2017 Miss B was allocated a new social worker, Officer H, who contacted Company X’s manager on 1 November 2017 regarding storage of Miss B’s items which had been left at the property. The manager said it was previously agreed that the items would be put in storage if no other arrangements were made.
- Company X had removed some of Miss B’s remaining belongings and put them in storage and left others in the flat which it then re-let. It later provided an inventory of the items that were removed from the property. Miss B disputed the contents of the inventory.
- Miss B was discharged from hospital in February 2018 and discovered that many of her belongings were missing. She and her mother, Ms C, told the care provider and the Council. They later told the police as they feared items may have been stolen.
- Miss B and Ms C were dissatisfied with how the Council handled the matter and it told them it could not achieve anymore so Ms C complained to the Ombudsman.
- After the Ombudsman began investigating the complaint, the Council asked Ms C for further information, including a comprehensive list of all the items she believes went missing from Miss B’s flat and an estimate of each item’s value. It also made its own enquiries about the ownership and value of the items listed in Miss B’s inventory. The Council then met with Miss B’s family to discuss the matter. It offered to make a payment to Miss B in respect of her lost belongings which Ms C accepted on her behalf.
- The Council accepts Company X’s direct contact with Miss B when she was in hospital was inappropriate and fell below the standard expected of a commissioned care provider. It accepts that, in doing so, Company X failed to protect her dignity and privacy. The Council has apologised for this.
- Ms C says the Council acted in breach of Section 47 of the Care Act in failing to protect Miss B’s belongings when she was in hospital and unable to deal with them. As a result, some of them were lost and others were damaged by the new tenants when the property was re-let by Company X.
- The Council says it was unaware that Miss B’s belongings were being moved so it was unable to take action to mitigate loss or damage to them. But it knew Miss B had given notice on the tenancy and was detained in hospital and unable to deal with her belongings. It was also aware, as a result of the email from Company X’s manager on 16 June 2017, that Miss B’s belongings had to be removed from the flat by 23 June 2017. So, it should have known they were at risk.
- Officer G made contact with Company X before leaving the Council in an attempt to find out what was happening with Miss B’s belongings but the Council accepts that, after she left, there was a period of one month when Miss B was without a social worker and it was unaware what was happening with her belongings. The new social worker did not contact Company X to find out what was happening with Miss B’s belongings until November 2017.
- I find the Council failed in its duty under Section 47 of the Care Act to take reasonable steps to prevent or mitigate the loss or damage to Miss B’s belongings.
- The Council and Ms C have reached an agreement regarding a payment to cover the loss of Miss B’s belongings so the Ombudsman will not consider this. However, Miss B suffered distress as a result of the Council’s failure to protect her belongings and I consider it should provide a remedy for this injustice in addition to the payment it has made in respect of the lost belongings. Distress cannot generally be remedied by a payment, so the Ombudsman normally recommends a symbolic amount in the region of £100 to £300.
- The Council has agreed that, within one month of this decision, it will apologise to Miss B for its failure to protect her belongings while she was in hospital and pay her £300 in recognition of the distress she suffered as a result.
- I uphold Ms C’s complaint.
- I have completed my investigation on the basis that the Council has agreed to implement the recommended remedy.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- Ms C says the events complained of affected Miss B’s health so she needed hospital treatment. This point is essentially about liability for personal injury which is for the courts to decide. So, the restriction in paragraph 4 above applies. It is more appropriate for the courts than for the Ombudsman to reach a decision on this point. I have not therefore investigated this issue.
- Ms C also says the Council was in breach of Regulation 18 of the Care Quality Commission (Registration) Regulations 2009 in failing to notify the Care Quality Commission (CQC) of this incident. It is not the Ombudsman’s role to decide whether there was a breach of these Regulations. It is for the CQC to do so. I have not therefore investigated this aspect of Ms C’s complaint.
Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman