London Borough of Merton (20 007 386)

Category : Adult care services > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 10 Aug 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X complained the Council moved her aunt, Ms Y, into a residential home without notifying her or her husband Mr X. Mrs X further complained that when Ms Y later died in hospital, the Council again failed to inform her family. Mrs X said because of this she and Mr X lost the chance to say goodbye to Ms Y or help with her funeral arrangements, which caused them significant distress and upset. There was fault when the Council failed to notify Mr and Mrs X after Ms Y moved into residential care and did not follow the correct process when it cleared Ms Y’s home of its contents. The Council has agreed to provide an apology and remind its staff of the importance of the contacting next of kin when a service user is moved into residential care. This is a satisfactory resolution which addresses the fault identified.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X complained the Council moved Ms Y into a residential home and failed to notify her next of kin. Mrs X said the family were unable to collect Ms Y’s belongings or spend time with her prior to her death. Mrs X also complained the Council failed to inform her and her husband Mr X of Ms Y’s death which caused her and her family significant distress.

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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. 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)
  3. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the statutory regulator of care services. It keeps a register of care providers who show they meet the fundamental standards of care, inspects care services and issues reports on its findings. It also has power to enforce against breaches of fundamental care standards and prosecute offences.
  4. Under our information sharing agreement, we will share this decision with the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I contacted Mrs X and discussed the complaint with her.
  2. I made enquiries of the Council and considered the information it provided. This included correspondence shared between Mrs X and the Council.
  3. I wrote to both the Council and Mrs X with the draft decision. I considered their responses before I wrote the final decision.

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What I found


  1. Part 3 of the Local Government Act 1974 covers complaints where local councils provide services themselves or arrange or commission care services from social care providers, even if the council charges the person receiving care for the services.
  2. In this case, the Council arranged and commissioned a care provider to care for Ms Y.
  3. The Care Act 2014 sets out the duty councils have towards caring for residents with an assessed need for residential accommodation. The duty is usually discharged by a council making arrangements for the provision of accommodation in care homes regulated by the Care Quality Commission.
  4. When someone goes into residential accommodation, councils have a duty to protect the person’s property if there is a danger of loss or damage and not other arrangements have been made.

What happened

  1. Ms Y was elderly and had various health issues. She was assessed as lacking mental capacity to make her own decisions and the Council became responsible for overseeing her care several years ago.
  2. Mr and Mrs X are Ms Y’s nephew and niece-in-law. The Council’s records show the Council was last in contact with Mr and Mrs X regarding Ms Y’s wellbeing in April 2013. Mr X advises the Council at this time that he was looking after a close relative and could not provide any support for Ms Y.
  3. In August 2016, the Council moved Ms Y into residential care and cleared her home of its contents. The Council says it updated Ms Y’s neighbour and carer regarding her progress until August 2017, when its mental health team discharged her from its service and her care became partly managed by a different council: Council B.
  4. In 2018, the Council became aware of safeguarding concerns regarding the home Ms Y was staying in. The Council reviewed Ms Y’s needs and decided to relocate her to another care home in September 2018. The Council’s records show it shared Mr and Mrs X’s details with Council B: “Council B called to ask for next of kin details for this patient. The Care Home is closing and they need to inform the next of kin – Mr and Mrs X.”
  5. In January 2019 Ms Y died. Mrs X says she did not find out about Ms Y’s death until March 2019. By this time Ms Y’s funeral arrangements had been made and Mrs X had to intervene.
  6. Mrs X complained to the Council in March 2019. She said the Council did not keep her and Mr X updated regarding Ms Y’s move into residential care or give them the opportunity to review the contents of her home before they were removed. Mrs X said the Council failed to pass their contact details to the care home. Mrs X also said Ms Y’s funeral arrangements were almost carried out incorrectly because of the Council’s actions.
  7. In April 2019, the Council responded to Mrs X’s complaint. The Council explained moved Ms Y to a different care home in late 2018 after carrying out a review of her needs. The Council said it believed the care home and Council B had informed Ms Y’s relatives about the move and apologised it did not contact her and Mr X.
  8. Mrs X wrote the Council with further queries in June 2019. She asked why her and Mr X’s details were not passed to the care home despite being listed as Ms Y’s next of kin. She explained that this situation had led to Mr and Mrs X being unable to organise Ms Y’s financial affairs.
  9. Ms X chased the Council for a response in July 2019 and the Council responded on the same day. The Council could not explain why Council B or the care provider failed to notify Mrs X that Ms Y was in residential care. The Council said it contacted Ms Y’s carer and neighbour regarding her care as they had been in regular contact with her and were listed as Ms Y’s emergency contacts.
  10. Mrs X decided to bring her complaint to the Ombudsman as she remained unhappy with the Council’s response.
  11. In response to the Ombudsman’s enquiries, the Council has confirmed it did not contact Mr and Mrs X when Ms Y was placed into a care home in 2016 or when she was hospitalised. The Council has explained the details it held for Mr and Mrs X were out of date and a staff member was on annual leave which contributed to the delay in contacting Mr and Mrs X. The Council has apologised for the impact this had on Mr and Mrs X.
  12. The Council also explained it did not take an inventory or contact Ms Y’s next of kin before disposing of her property. The Council acknowledges this is not its usual process and confirmed it has improved procedures to ensure staff take an inventory of valuable items or important documents which is then signed by a social worker and a Council officer. The Council said it has discussed the situation with Ms Y’s neighbour who confirmed Ms Y’s sister collected her jewellery.


  1. Mrs X remains unhappy the Council failed to inform her and Mr X that Ms Y had been moved into residential care. The evidence shows the Council passed on these details to Ms Y’s care provider and Council B but did not check whether either party contacted Mr and Mrs X. There is no requirement in law or the Council’s policy for the Council to notify the next of kin in such cases however we would expect the Council to follow best practice. I consider this fault. I have not seen evidence of any contact made by Mr and Mrs X with the Council during the time Ms Y was in residential care and I cannot say whether Mr and Mrs X experienced an injustice because of this aspect of the complaint.
  2. Mrs X complains the Council did not contact her and Mr X when Ms Y was admitted to hospital and later died despite holding their contact details. The Council has apologised and advised it did not hold up to date contact details for Mr and Mrs X and this caused delay in locating them. As above, it would have been best practice for the Council to contact Mr and Mrs X. In the interests of fairness, I must note I have not seen evidence Mr and Mrs X contacted the Council to update it regarding their address or to enquire about Ms Y. Further, at this point the Council had discharged responsibility for Ms Y and was up to the hospital to contact Ms Y’s next of kin. I cannot comment on the hospital’s actions. I therefore do not find fault with the Council on this complaint point.
  3. The Council is required by law to ensure the safety of personal belongings when a person is being moved into residential care. The Council has acknowledged that it failed to follow the correct process when it visited Ms Y’s home and disposed of her belongings without taking an inventory of valuable items. This is fault. Mr and Mrs X have been left with a sense of uncertainty around the items that were removed from Ms Y’s home. The Council has confirmed it has reviewed its process and implemented procedures to ensure this does not happen again. This is a satisfactory action for the Council to take.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of the date of my final decision the Council has agreed to send Mr and Mrs X a letter of apology in recognition of the shortfall in service they experienced.
  2. Within three months of the date of my final decision the Council has agreed to provide evidence showing it has reminded its staff of the importance of notifying next of kin when a person is moved into residential care.

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Final decision

  1. There was fault in the Council’s actions. I have made a recommendation to remedy this and the Council has agreed to these recommendations. I have completed the investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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