London Borough of Hillingdon (17 016 428)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 24 Sep 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr P complains about the support he has received from Council social services. We do not uphold the complaint as we cannot find fault in how the Council has supported Mr P. We find no reason to question its record keeping which suggests Mr P has sometimes been aggressive to its staff.

The complaint

  1. ‘Mr P’ complains about the Council’s social services. Mr P is a young adult now aged 19. He arrived in this country as an asylum seeker aged 15. He has received services from the Council, first under the Children’s Act 1989 and more recently under the Children Leaving Care Act 2000. He complains at the Council:
  • Appointing a personal adviser to work with him, who he does not want to work with.
  • Keeping records describing him as showing anger and aggression.
  • Providing housing where he feels unsafe.
  1. Mr P says as a result he feels excluded from decisions made by the Council. He says the Council’s actions have worsened relations between them.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. 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)
  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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. Before issuing this decision I considered:
  • Mr P’s complaint to us made by email and information provided in a telephone conversation with him.
  • Details of the Council’s replies to Mr P’s complaint, which pre-dated our investigation.
  • Information provided by the Council in response to written enquiries.
  • Relevant law and guidance as referred to in the text.
  1. I also sent both Mr P and the Council a draft decision statement setting out my thinking about this complaint. I did not receive further comments from Mr P. The Council said it had no further comments it wanted to make.

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What I found

  1. Mr P received support from an assigned social worker until October 2017. The Council then replaced the social worker with a personal adviser.
  2. I have noted Government guidance on the Children’s Act 1989 which provides advice for councils working with young adults like Mr P aged over 18. It says that authorities should ensure they have a personal assistant, but that this does not have to be a social worker. However, the Council must manage any transition from social work support. It must also have up to date care plans, known as pathway plans. It must also ensure young people “are central to discussions about their futures” including taking account of their preferences when appointing a personal adviser.
  3. I read through extensive notes kept by the Council pre-dating this change. The notes suggest the Council gave Mr P advanced notice of its plan to change his support arrangements. Its notes detail the personal adviser met with Mr P several times before becoming his main point of contact with the Council.
  4. I also considered carefully the care planning documents prepared by the Council. They appeared comprehensive in identifying areas where Mr P needed support and how the Council would provide that support. It included identifying where the personal adviser would support Mr P.
  5. I noted however that Mr P expressed unhappiness with the change from the outset. He has regularly clashed with his personal adviser. He has asked for a different worker. He has asked for a female adviser instead.
  6. The Council has rejected Mr P’s request to change his personal assistant. It notes say Mr P has reacted angrily to challenge on various issues. For example, where the Council said it could not help him buy new travel documents as it did not consider them needed as part of his support. Or in encouraging Mr P to seek more medical support for his mental health. The Council considers these are occasions where it needed to challenge Mr P. It notes that Mr P has directed anger and aggression to other members of staff also. So, it does not think there is a personality clash between Mr P and the personal adviser. The problem is more that Mr P will clash with authority figures when challenged.
  7. The Council also notes Mr P has worked well with men on other occasions. For example, the manager of the hostel where Mr P lived until he was 18.
  8. I think this is a reasonable position for the Council to take. Its notes suggest a genuine concern for Mr P’s welfare. It wants to help Mr P live independently in the community. But that will sometimes involve challenging his actions. I note the Council has not walked away from trying to support Mr P even though he has sometimes said he no longer wants its service. It continues to try to work with him and any advocacy or support that Mr P has engaged.
  9. I do not propose to uphold this part of the complaint therefore as I can find no fault in the Council’s actions.

The complaint about the Council’s records

  1. As I have noted above there are many records of Mr P behaving aggressively in response to the Council.
  2. I accept there may be times when the Council has misunderstood Mr P. English is not his first language and he becomes frustrated. Or else he may have anger more at his circumstances than at individuals. But the Council has a duty to its employees to note any concerns as it must ensure their safety. As I have noted above the Council has kept comprehensive and detailed notes in this case. For example, its case notes in March 2018 recorded nine separate times when Mr P reportedly shouted and/or swore at his personal adviser or another Council employee. This seemed typical of the Council’s records. Given the number and detail of many of the reports I could find no reason to dispute what the Council has recorded about Mr P’s behaviour.
  3. I note the Council has not withdrawn services from Mr P although it has cautioned that if its staff are not safe working with him it might consider that. I think that too is reasonable in the circumstances.
  4. I do not propose to uphold this part of the complaint therefore as I can find no fault in the Council’s actions.

The complaint about housing

  1. Before Mr P turned 18 he lived in hostel accommodation arranged by the Council. Mr P had to leave when he was 18 as the accommodation is not for adults, although the Council let him stay for several months while it identified an alternative. It suggested Mr P move to supported accommodation or in with a family. But he wanted to live independently and the Council agreed that. In late 2017 he moved to his current house, which is a shared property. Mr P has his own room but must share a kitchen and bathroom with others.
  2. I can see from the Council’s notes there were some problems with the property soon after Mr P moved in. I noted there were problems with breakdowns of some items such as the cooker and washing machine. I noted the Council acted in response to those, working with the landlord to ensure they made repairs and improvements.
  3. The Council notes also suggest Mr P has clashed with other residents. He has told me he no longer feels safe in the property. He wants a move and the Council notes suggest he first asked for this in February 2018. At the time the Council recorded there were no vacancies in any of the shared properties it has an agreement to rent in Mr P’s area of choice. But the note says “once a room becomes available [Mr P] will be the first person that will move in”. This statement later appeared in Mr P’s pathway plan written at the end of February 2018.
  4. However, I understand Mr P remains in the same property. The Council has suggested he could have other accommodation choices, such as living in his own flat and Mr P has said he would prefer that. But the February 2018 care plan suggested Mr P struggled to live independently, often struggling with budgeting and falling behind with service charges. So the Council did not consider it could yet support him with that.
  5. I do not propose to find fault here. I think it is unsatisfactory if the Council suggested it would move Mr P in February but there has been no progress on that. But there is no evidence the property provided to Mr P is unsuitable. The issues Mr P experiences in shared living, such as clashes with other residents over personal possessions may recur in another similar house. As I have noted the Council has been thorough in the support given to Mr P. It meets and discusses his needs with him regularly. I have seen no notes leading me to think the Council must treat Mr P’s wish to live elsewhere with greater urgency.
  6. However, the Council should also ensure it moves Mr P to other shared accommodation as it has promised that. This will form part of its continuing support to Mr P in meeting his need to have somewhere to live. I have no reason to think this will not remain part of his care planning. Through its continuing work with Mr P the Council should update him on any developments and any change in its thinking around his accommodation.

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Final decision

  1. For reasons set out above I have not upheld this complaint. I do not find evidence the Council has acted with fault causing an injustice to the complainant. Therefore, I have completed my investigation satisfied with its actions.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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