Somerset County Council has been criticised by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman for taking too long to assess a vulnerable woman’s care needs.
A report by the social care watchdog said that, had the woman, known as Ms Y, been given an adequate assessment of her needs in September 2016, it would have likely resulted in an increase in her direct payments.
Instead, due in part to long delays in allocating a social worker to Ms Y, her payments were not increased until June 2018, when a proper reassessment was completed. As a result, her parents, Mr and Mrs X, had to meet her increased needs unpaid.
The woman lives in supported accommodation and the council provides a personal budget to her in the form of direct payments which she uses to employ her parents as her personal assistants. While an agency, also paid for by Ms Y, provides support and personal care.
At the initial assessment in 2016, Mr X requested an increase in Ms Y’s care and support package for social activities and said she now needed daily support with bowel management and personal care, rather than the support she was then receiving three-times-a-week by district nurses.
However, the assessing social worker and her manager believed Mr X’s request for additional support to be a health issue, rather than social care, so did not increase her care package.
In November 2016, after Mr X contested the outcome of the September 2016 review, the council agreed to reassess the woman’s care and support needs, but she was not allocated a social worker until July 2017. It then took a further 11 months for the assessment to be completed, which resulted in her direct payments being increased, in June 2018.
The Ombudsman also criticised the council for cutting funding for four weeks’ respite care a year from Ms Y’s package without explanation or consideration for how she would cope if Mr and Mrs X were to take breaks. The report also stated that the council was at fault for not increasing her payments to allow her to pay Mr X for managing her finances, which it knew he was doing on an unpaid basis.
Michael King, of the Local Government Ombudsman, said the watchdog had made recommendations designed to avoid other people suffering similar problems. He said:
‘The council has relied on the goodwill of this woman’s parents to provide support and care over and above what they should have done, because it took too long to complete its reassessment.
‘It also didn’t do some of the things it had promised to do, or properly consider if the woman needed help to administer her direct payments.
‘I now call on Somerset council to reflect on and agree to all of our recommendations. These include actions not just to properly address all of the issues the family encountered, but also practical changes to processes designed to avoid other people suffering similar problems.’
A spokesperson for Somerset County Council said it was in the process of actioning the Ombudsman’s recommendations. The spokesman said:
‘We work hard to get things right every time. In this case we did not meet the standards we set for ourselves. We have apologised to the individual and their family.
‘The council has considered all the recommendations and is in the process of actioning them.
‘Somerset is a learning authority and in light of the recommendations we are undertaking a review of our direct payments.’
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