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Suffolk County Council (20 013 554)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 10 Aug 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X complains the Council has failed to provide her and her children with appropriate social care support. This resulted in distress, financial loss and negative outcomes for the family. The Council has accepted fault, but Mrs X says its proposed remedy is inadequate. The Council has agreed an enhanced remedy.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X made several complaints about lack of support from the Council in caring for her disabled son, B. These were upheld in full by the Council. It offered a financial remedy covering lack of service provision, distress and reimbursement of the cost of a private assessment. Mrs X’s view is that the remedy is inadequate.

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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. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  3. 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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What I have investigated

  1. I investigated the Council’s remedy and Mrs X’s complaint that it is inadequate.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I spoke to Mrs X and considered information provided by the Council and Mrs X. I considered the Ombudsman’s guidance on remedies. I shared my draft decision with Mrs X and the Council and considered their comments before finalising my decision.

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What I found

  1. Mrs X has a son, B who has special educational needs (SEN), autism and challenging behaviour. She also has two other children with SEN. In spring 2018, when all three children were living at home, Mr X became unwell. His illness was terminal, and he died in early 2019.
  2. During the period of his illness and after his death, Mrs X sought assistance from the Council in caring for B, whose behaviour was deteriorating due to anxiety, and her two other children. She later complained about the Council’s response to her requests. In particular she complained that the Council:
      1. Failed to provide respite care in time for her to spend a weekend alone with her husband in his final days;
      2. Failed to complete a carer’s assessment, which she had requested in summer 2018, until long after her husband’s death;
      3. Delayed in referring B to the occupational therapy service, then refused to offer him support as his disabilities were not physical;
      4. Failed to provide an adequate sum to allow her to commission care for B, offering her sufficient for only 6 hours provision per week initially. This was increased to 30 hours after she complained; and
      5. Failed to provide adequate advocacy support during the complaints process.
  3. Following a three-stage process the Council upheld these complaints in full. It apologised and offered Mrs X £1,000 for distress caused. It also paid Mrs X a sum for lack of service provision made up of the difference between payment for 6 and 30 hours’ care for B over the relevant period. Finally, it offered to reimburse Mrs X for the cost of a private sensory assessment she had commissioned for B.
  4. Mrs X approached the Ombudsman as she felt this was inadequate. She pointed out she had lost the chance to spend her husband’s final weekend alone with him and was still unable to think about this without crying.
  5. She also feels gradually-introduced respite care over the period of her husband’s illness would have benefited B. Following her husband’s death B’s anxiety increased and his mental state deteriorated. He assaulted Mrs X and she had to call the police on several occasions to assist in managing him. This was distressing for the whole family. B is now living in residential care, which is a move Mrs X and her husband had always opposed.
  6. Mrs X also questioned the Council’s remedy for lack of provision. She said 30 hours per week was not adequate given her son’s disabilities. She pointed out that B’s care now costs £2,500 per week. The Council said it had assessed B’s needs at the time with reference to the Children’s Act, where the parent has responsibility for the child and for caring for them at home. It said Mrs X was obtaining all relevant benefits and B was attending school. This could not be compared with the cost of B’s current assessed need for residential accommodation away from the home with 24-hour care, it added. However, the Council could not demonstrate how it had arrived at the decision that 30 hours per week was adequate.

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Analysis

  1. Mrs X contends that 30 hours was inadequate provision. The Council has been unable to show how it decided that 30 hours was adequate. This is fault by the Council. It is not possible to say how many hours would have been provided if the decision had been properly made. The Council has agreed to award Mrs X £500 for the uncertainty arising from this.
  2. The Council’s proposed remedy for the distress caused by the lack of respite is inadequate. Mrs X will never get back the time that could have been spent with her husband and the distress caused by this is ongoing. She will never know whether respite care would have made a difference to her son. In addition, she has had the burden of constant complaining over a prolonged period. Finally, the delays in referring her son to occupational therapy and in the completion of the carers’ assessment require a remedy.
  3. I recommended that the distress remedy be increased to £2,000 – that is, that the Council should pay an additional £1,000. The Council agreed to this.
  4. Mrs X challenged my draft decision. She said that £2,000 was inadequate given her level of distress.
  5. The Ombudsman’s guidance on remedies states that we do not award compensation in the way that a court might. We make symbolic payments as an acknowledgement of the distress or difficulties complainants have been through. The guidance adds: A remedy payment for distress is often a moderate sum of between £100 and £300. In cases where distress was severe or prolonged, up to £1000 may be justified. Exceptionally, we may recommend more than this.
  6. I am satisfied that a remedy of £2,000 reflects the exceptional nature of Mrs X’s distress.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed that within one month of my final decision it will pay Mrs X a further £1,500 as additional compensation for the distress and uncertainty caused by its faults.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation with a finding of fault, which had been partially remedied by the Council before our intervention. It has agreed to provide an enhanced financial remedy.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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