The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr Z has made a complaint about the Council for failing to act in response to safeguarding alerts and referrals that he is at risk of abuse. Mr Z says the alleged fault has caused him distress and made him susceptible to harm. However, the Ombudsman has found the Council made appropriate enquires to assess whether Mr Z was at risk and there is no fault in how it made its decisions. The Ombudsman cannot question the merits of the Council’s decisions in the absence of fault.
- The complainant, who I refer to as Mr Z, is making a complaint about the Council for failing to act on safeguarding referrals and protect him from abuse.
- Mr Z is a Council tenant and has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder as well as other conditions. He alleges that he has been subjected to repeated abuse and threats by his neighbouring Council tenant. Specifically, Mr Z complains that despite several safeguarding alerts and referrals being made to the Council about his vulnerability, the Council is not safeguarding his needs as a vulnerable person. Further, he says the Council has not provided any material response to each safeguarding alert and referral made.
- In addition, Mr Z explains that he continuities to be subject to daily abuse and is at risk of harm. He says the Council’s omissions have caused him distress. As a desired outcome, Mr Z wants the Council to either take action against his neighbouring tenant, evict the alleged offender or offer him alternative housing.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word 'fault' to refer to these. 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 cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended).
How I considered this complaint
- I have reviewed Mr Z’s complaint to the Ombudsman and Council. I have also considered the responses of the Council, supporting documents from both parties and applicable legislation. Both Mr Z and the Council received an opportunity to comment on a draft of my decision before reaching a final view.
What I found
Background and legislative framework
- Some people need extra care or support, practical or emotional, to lead an active life. The need for social care may arise when a person becomes frailer with age as one example. A care and support plan is a detailed document setting out what services will be provided by the local authority. It also explains how it will meet the person’s needs, when they will be provided, and who will provide them. A care and support plan should be reviewed regularly by the local authority
- In circumstances where an adult may have needs for care and support, Section 9 of the Care Act 2014 places a duty on local authorities to conduct a needs assessment. This is to determine whether the adult does have needs for care and support and if the adult does, what those needs are. Once a needs assessment has been completed, the Care and Support (Eligibility Criteria) Regulations 2014 is used to identify the level of needs which must be met by a local authority. Where a local authority has determined a person has eligible needs, it has a legal duty to meet these needs, subject to meeting the financial criteria.
- The Care Act 2014 (the Act) also places legal obligations on local authorities relating to safeguarding vulnerable persons. Section 42 of the Act requires local authorities to make enquiries, or ensure others do so, if it believes an adult is experiencing, or is at risk of, abuse or neglect.
- Section 14.2 of the Care and Support Statutory Guidance says that a local authority’s safeguarding duties apply when:
- an adult has needs for care and support;
- is experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect and;
- as a result of those care and support needs is unable to protect themselves from either the risk of, or the experience of abuse or neglect
- Safeguarding means protecting an adult’s right to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect. It is about people and organisations working together to prevent and stop both the risks and experience of abuse or neglect, while at the same time making sure that the adult’s wellbeing is promoted including, where appropriate, having regard to their views, wishes and feelings in deciding on any action.
- In October 2019, Mr Z made a self-referral to the Council for care and support due to his disabilities. He was later in the month assigned a senior social worker (Social Worker A). An assessment of Mr Z’s need was undertaken and a support plan was established. This approved four hours of support per week to help Mr Z to manage his anxiety, stress levels and to enable him to achieve positive changes in his life. The assessment of needs was focused on his mental health and housing needs.
- Some 12 months later, Mr Z had expressed to the Council that he does not want to make the support plan active. He said this is because he had been focused on re-housing and cited that he did not feel able to action his support plan until in more suitable accommodation. During this one-year period, Mr Z has had two further support workers (Social Worker B and C). The Council said both Social Worker B and C had tried to support Mr Z, though each have considered his behaviour towards them to be unacceptable. Specifically, the Council refer to Mr Z shouting and making derogatory comments at staff. It said Mr Z has made threats to seek a criminal prosecution against Social Worker C and publicly named staff in posts and videos uploaded on social media platforms.
- In early August 2020, Mr Z made a safeguarding referral to the Council. The Council recorded this referral and noted Mr Z felt his life was under threat by his neighbours. In response, the Council decided that further enquiries should be made in line with Section 42 of the Act. It therefore opened the case for Social Worker C, who was working with Mr Z at the time, to gain further information to assess the level of risk. However, it was the view of Social Worker C that Mr Z was able to protect himself from the risk of harm. This is because Social Worker C noted Mr Z had contacted the police on the occasions he has felt under threat or believed an offence has been committed. Moreover, he noted that Mr Z had taken several actions to reduce the risk including, but not limited to, wearing a body camera on his person.
- In mid-August 2020, Mr Z says he made a second safeguarding referral to the Council. However, the Council has no record of receiving this referral.
- In early September 2020, Mr Z made a further safeguarding referral to the Council. The Council recorded this referral and noted Mr Z continued to feel unsafe due to the alleged conduct by his neighbour. However, the Council considered this referral was a duplicate of the referrals made by Mr Z less than a month earlier which it was still evaluating. Further, the Council noted that Mr Z’s primary motivation was to be rehoused. It said Social Worker C was working with Mr Z to achieve this, though considered Mr Z was not open to considering a range of locations which would make rehousing easier.
- In mid-September 2020, Mr Z says he made a further safeguarding referral to the Council. However, the Council has no record of receiving this referral.
- In late September 2020, Mr Z made a further safeguarding referral to the Council. The Council recorded this referral and noted Mr Z still felt under continued threat by his neighbour. He expressed his desired outcome was to be rehoused. In response, the Council decided that further enquiries should be again made under Section 42 of the Act. Further, as it considered Mr Z had been putting in complaints across various Council directorates, the Council considered the best approach was to organise a meeting with all those involved.
- In November 2020, the Council held a meeting with Mr Z to discuss his housing, safeguarding, counselling and any ongoing support needs. I note the Council did make attempts for members of the police and anti-social behaviour team to be in attendance to agree an approach on supporting Mr Z. However, Mr Z was not happy for either to be present. The primary agreed actions were as follows:
- Social Worker C was to keep fortnightly contact with Mr Z;
- the Council complete a risk assessment with Mr Z, focusing on communication strategies where he has concerns;
- the Council’s housing team would note extra locations Mr Z is happy to consider moving to and;
- Mr Z is to follow his request for counselling through the National Health Service.
- The Council said that actions (i) and (ii) required ongoing input from Social Worker C, though they considered Mr Z to have disengaged. It said Mr Z’s behaviour and conduct had resulted in numerous internal incident logs being recorded and that he eventually stopped taking calls from Social Worker C. Mr Z subsequently expressly stated in an email he no longer wished to have contact.
- By law, I cannot question the merits of a decision by the Council in the absence of fault. Mr Z has said the Council has failed to take action in relation to his safeguarding referrals. Section 42 of the Act requires local authorities to make enquiries, or ensure others do so, if it believes an adult is experiencing, or is at risk of, abuse or neglect. I have reviewed each of the Council’s responses to Mr Z’s logged referrals and, in my view, the Council has complied with its legal obligation to consider the referral and, where necessary, make enquiries. This is because the Council has properly actioned each referral received, weighed up the relevant factors to assess the level of risk and agreed actions to mitigate the problems Mr Z is experiencing at home.
- In the circumstances the Council has decided to make enquiries in compliance with Section 42 of the Act, it decided to ascertain further information by way of Social Worker C’s engagement with Mr Z. Further, it organised a case management meeting to determine how best to support Mr Z going forward. However, Social Worker C felt Mr Z was putting protective barriers in place to ensure his wellbeing, such as contacting the police where necessary. In Social Worker C’s view, Mr Z was able to protect himself from risk and abuse and so a safeguarding duty was not owed by the Council in accordance with the statutory guidance. Moreover, the case management meeting agreed specific actions to support Mr Z without the need for formal safeguarding.
- In addition, I note the Council has sought to support Mr Z by way of devising a care and support plan having conducted a needs assessment. I note from the evidence available that Mr Z opted not to activate this plan due to being focussed on his housing needs. Also, I note Mr Z has presented challenging behaviour which has resulted in many incident logs being recorded by the Council.
- In summary, I consider the Council has considered and acted in response to Mr Z’s safeguarding referrals, under difficult circumstances. It has considered the statutory guidance and maintained a record of its actions. I recognise Mr Z does not agree with the action taken by the Council, but I have not identified any fault in this respect. The restriction I describe at paragraph 6 therefore applies.
- The Council has properly considered Mr Z’s safeguarding referrals and taken appropriate action by following the law and applicable guidance. I have not determined any fault by the Council with respect to the support it has provided Mr Z. As I cannot question the merits of the Council’s decision in the absence of fault, I do not uphold Mr Z’s complaint.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman