The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs C complained about the way the Council handled Mr X’s move to another supported living accommodation scheme. She said there were unreasonable delays, the process was not properly explained to her, and her son missed out on a flat he preferred. We found there were delays in the process to move Mr X to alternative accommodation. The Council has agreed to apologise for this and pay a financial remedy to Mrs C and Mr X for the distress this caused.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Mrs C, complained to us on behalf of her son, whom I shall call Mr X. Mrs C complained that:
- There was an unreasonable delay with regards to moving her son into other accommodation.
- During this time, the Council failed to follow the correct process and failed to provide correct information.
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 I received from Mrs C and the Council. I shared a copy of my draft decision statement with Mrs C and the Council and considered any comments I received before I made my final decision.
What I found
- Mrs C says her son is a vulnerable young adult with Autism, who lacks social emotional skills. She said he has mobility problems and suffers from clinical depression and heightened anxiety.
- Her son was living in a supported housing scheme with additional hours of care support. However, Mrs C said he wanted to move to other accommodation because he was no longer feeling save where he was living. He was particularly scared of another tenant who had made threats and the situation was negatively affecting his mental wellbeing. Mrs C said a social worker had also told her in June 2020 that the placement at his scheme was not suitable for her son.
- In mid-June 2020, Mrs C contacted the Council to say her son felt unsafe at the scheme and wanted to move. She asked the Council to carry out a reassessment to enable her son to move.
- The Council allocated Mr X’s case to a social worker in early July 2020. Mrs C told the social worker that her son wanted to move to other accommodation as he felt unsafe from another resident. She said his mental health had declined, and he was not looking after his personal care anymore, with things getting worse by the day. She also said her son needed more support than he was receiving, including with personal care and medication.
- Mrs C said there was a delay in carrying out a reassessment of her son’s needs and it took a long time before the Council had found a scheme where her son could move into.
- The Council told me that the social worker responded correctly to this by:
- First working with Mrs C, her son and the on-site care provider to see if the professional relationship could be restored.
- Only looking for alternative accommodation until after a reassessment had been done.
- I reviewed the records of the contacts between the social worker and the on-site provider between July and September 2020. I found that, while there was contact during this time, there is no evidence to show this was to “try and restore relationships between both parties”. The main problem, as explained by Mrs C and the on-site provider, was not a breakdown in relationship.
- The Council did not follow its process of ‘only looking for accommodation after a reassessment’. The social worker already told Mrs C during their first conversation in July 2020 that she would explore alternative scheme options for her son including the “Dudley priority vacancies” and get back to her. She also said she would send Mrs C a list of possible homes to explore and continue to identify any vacancies locally.
- Mr X was struggling, had increased anxiety and was very depressed. He was reluctant to see or speak to professionals, and communication between him and staff had deteriorated. Staff found it very difficult to get him to engage and to ensure he would accept support.
- His mental health deterioration was a direct result of his current environment. He was scared and frightened of leaving his flat and his anxiety had increased to the point where his mental, physical and emotional wellbeing was being affected quite significantly. Mr X’s mental health has significantly deteriorated, and his GP referred him in August 2020 to mental health services.
- He was no longer engaging in social activities in the community, going food shopping, and he had not been eating well anymore. His personal care, ability to maintain his home environment, and maintain friendships and relationships had all been affected.
- Mr X had also not been eating well recently due to the deterioration in his mental health. He had little motivation to prepare meals for himself or even go food shopping.
- Mr X had always been able to self-administer his medication. However, he was not doing this anymore, and staff have had to check daily to ensure he would take his medication as prescribed.
- However, with the right environment, his overall mental health and wellbeing would improve, and he would have the potential to be independent in the future. He would like to move accommodation and feel more supported in his home environment, to enable him to ultimately become more independent.
- The assessor concluded Mr X needs a change of accommodation to put the correct amount of support in place for him, so he ultimately become more independent, which is what he wants.
- Staff were regularly checking up on Mr X. There were no significant changes in his physical or mental health, and his behaviour had not changed.
- His mother has been bringing his food shopping for the last two months.
- Mr X had never missed his medication. Staff would remind him every day to take it. He may take it late, but he always takes it.
- He can always ask for support if needed and is capable of doing so.
- Her son appeared to be very settled and engaging with his support daily. He has two keyworkers who he really gets on with.
- He got into a better routine of getting up earlier and doing things during the day.
- Support staff had been helping him cook nice meals and go shopping. He had lost weight, was eating healthier and was getting out for exercise.
- Her son says he is in a much better mood, his environment is calmer, and he feels safe.
- During the period investigated (June 2020 – January 2021) care records show Mr X would regularly turn down his support when offered. Care staff would often return later to offer the same support at alternative times.
- It is clear from the outcome of this that better communication and assistance should have been provided in delivering a service to Mr X. The issues that have been raised regarding lack of communication from all parties involved will be shared with the team as part of our efforts to improve the service that we deliver.
- Mrs C told the Council her son felt unsafe, his mental health was declining, he was not looking after his personal care anymore, and he needed more support with various aspects of his life, including medication. The Council concluded in September 2020 that his mental health deterioration was a direct result of his current environment. He was scared and frightened of leaving his flat which increased his anxiety to the point where his mental, physical and emotional wellbeing was being affected quite significantly. However, it took two months before the Council carried out reassessment of his needs. It took another two months until the Council’s panel had approved his support plan. I found this to be an unreasonable delay under the above-mentioned circumstances.
- This resulted in a delay in Mr X moving to other accommodation where he could receive, and would feel able to accept, the support he needed. As such, Mr X suffered an injustice due to a delay in improving his support, reducing his anxiety, and improving his mental wellbeing. This resulted in distress to him and his mother that could have been avoided.
- The Council did not follow the correct process, because it started the process to look for new accommodation before it caried out a reassessment. The Council has acknowledged it did not sufficiently inform Mrs C of the steps involved in the housing (re-allocation) process. It is important that Council officers clearly explain any process that a clint needs to go through in a way the client, or their representative, understands what will happen, when and why.
- There was no fault in the Council’s decision to allocate Flat B instead or Flat A.
- The Council should, within four weeks of my decision:
- Apologise to Mr X and his mother for the time it took to assess him and get his support plan approved through panel, which resulted in a delay in the Council offering Mr X a new accommodation to move to.
- It should also pay Mr X £400 and Mrs C £250.
- Discuss the lessons learned with its social workers and ensure they are able to explain the housing (reallocation) process correctly in a way that clients understand.
- For reasons explained above, I upheld the complaint. I am satisfied with the actions the Council will carry out to remedy this and have therefore decided to complete my investigation and close the case.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman