Councils need to check how they help people with hidden disabilities

Councils are being urged to check their procedures to avoid disadvantaging people with ‘hidden disabilities’ following the publication of three separate investigation reports into London councils by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

The cases highlighted by the Ombudsman all show the council not doing enough to enable someone to use their services. They include not making reasonable adjustments to help a woman with autism to repay overpaid housing benefit, and two councils not helping a man with severe dyslexia to deal with parking tickets and permits.

In the first case, London Borough of Hillingdon did not suspend housing benefits payments when the woman told it she had returned to work. This meant she accrued an overpayment of more than £1,000. And when the council demanded she repay the money, it did not help her navigate its complex system. It would not give her a named officer to email and often insisted she telephone, which she found difficult because of her autism, despite her explaining why this would cause her problems.

In the other cases, London Boroughs of Lambeth and Wandsworth failed to help the man pay for, or challenge, parking fines and apply for parking permits, insisting he fills out written forms, which he struggled with because of his dyslexia, rather than using the telephone.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King, said:

“The Equality Act 2010 requires councils to anticipate the needs of people who may need to access their services. This means when councils are alerted to the fact someone might need to be treated in a different way, they should ask that person what adjustments are needed, and consider whether these are reasonable.

“It can be difficult for people to navigate complex council procedures, yet in all three cases, the councils were made aware that these people needed additional help, but none was given.

“We recognise the significant challenges faced by public service providers in adapting their processes to the needs of people who may require adjustments, particularly where the services have been automated. But this is a duty councils must meet and needs they must anticipate.

“I welcome Wandsworth and Hillingdon councils’ commitment to improve their wider processes for people who need help accessing services. I urge Lambeth council to reflect on the lessons it can learn from my investigation and make the changes I have recommended.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services.  As a result of the Ombudsman’s investigations, Wandsworth and Hillingdon councils have agreed to apologise to the people involved and make changes to their policies and procedures to ensure people with hidden disabilities are not treated in the same way in future.

Article date: 28 June 2019