Clearer advice needed to help service users negotiate benefits payments

The message is highlighted in a recent investigation into a complaint about Central Bedfordshire Council in which a woman, who has significant disabilities, was left without proper care and support because of a lack of proper information.

The woman complained that the council did not administer her direct payments properly; including giving her a clear idea of what could be included in her disability-related expenditure (DRE). Her problems were compounded by the council not dealing with her complaints properly.

The LGO’s investigation found the council failed to keep adequate records including her care needs assessment and records of meetings, and did not provide the woman with clear information about its assessments and calculations.

It also found the council did not take sufficient account of the impact the woman’s disability has on her day-to-day activities. The woman’s support plan was also not clear about her personal assistants’ duties.

In addition, the council did not follow its own complaints procedure when the woman complained and instead tried to resolve the matter by arranging meetings, which the woman struggled to attend because of her disabilities.

This meant that she did not have a proper support plan and has had less care than she should have received, has not had an accurate financial assessment since 2010 so is likely to have been wrongly charged, and has suffered significant and avoidable distress and frustration,

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:

“Negotiating the different financial requirements of the adult social care system can be a daunting prospect for people. Local authorities need to remember that many people are relying upon clear and accurate advice and support from their council to help them make informed choices about their care.

“This case highlights the consequences when that clear advice is not available leading to a vulnerable woman receiving less care and support than she might have been entitled to for a number of years.

“I am pleased Central Bedfordshire Council has agreed to my recommendations and hope the remedies I have recommended will improve the situation for this woman and ensure this sort of confusion does not happen again for other people.”

In this case, to remedy the situation, the LGO has recommended the council apologise to the woman and confirm that it will not seek to reclaim any unpaid contributions, and write off any debts it is currently trying to recover.

It should also arrange for an independent social worker to carry out a new care needs assessment and prepare a new support plan without delay, and set up a clear working agreement for future reviews and monitoring.

It should also reconsider the woman’s disability related expenditure (DRE) and provide a clear explanation of why it does not consider some costs arise from her disability.

The council should also pay the woman £5,000 to acknowledge the impact on her being without adequate care and support for more than two years and a further £2,000 to acknowledge the avoidable distress and frustration caused.

Central Bedfordshire Council has agreed to the LGO’s recommendations.

Article date: 21 January 2016

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