Ombudsman Report : Southend-on-Sea Borough Council (04/A/10159) [2005]

The complainant parents complained that, having carried out a detailed assessment of their adult son (J), the Council failed to arrange a residential placement for him that would meet his assessed needs.  In carrying out needs assessments, local authorities should provide a package of services in a setting which has scope for individual development and well-being.  A comprehensive assessment should be multi-disciplinary and include a range of professionals with the requisite skills and knowledge of the service-user’s needs.  Once an assessment has been completed and need identified, local authorities must provide a service that meets that need.   Resources can only be taken into account when deciding how to meet that assessed need, if there is more than one available alternative which is at least not inappropriate for that purpose.  R v Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council ex parte Help the Aged & others; R v Lancashire CC ex p Ingham, R v East Sussex County Council ex parte Tandy. 

J had Downs Syndrome and autistic traits and very little verbal communication. J was placed at a residential setting where the local authority believed his assessed needs could be met.  The manager of the setting agreed that they could meet his residential needs but could not meet his day care needs.  The decision was opposed by J’s care manager, his Mencap advocate and his parents.  The decision remained unchanged and as a result of this unsuitable placement, J’s behaviour deteriorated dramatically.  He became a danger to himself and to other service-users and staff.  Although J’s actions were behavioural and not caused by mental health problems, he was moved to a secure psychiatric unit, without consultation with his parents.  He was detained for eight months, without access to day care or suitable activities, and where he was sedated with drugs.  He was then moved to another residential placement which, although an improvement, did not meet all his assessed needs; in particular, the need to be near his family.  J was eventually moved to an appropriate placement over two years after his needs had been assessed.  Throughout this period, he and his parents suffered considerably.

The Ombudsman made a finding of maladministration causing injustice and recommended that the Council review its procedures for placements in the independent sector, to ensure costs consideration does not lead to decisions which fail to meet assessed needs.  Secondly, to pay compensation of £10,000 to J’s parents to compensate them for their stress and worry, and finally to pay J’s parents £25,000 to be administered by them for J’s benefit, for the failure to meet his needs and the harm that was caused to him.

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