Ombudsman’s findings against Birmingham City Council (13 002 982)

In January 2004, Birmingham City Council (‘the Council’) identified X as a disabled child with severe learning difficulties and Autism. As a result of this, they provided X with 10 hours a month in direct payments. However during the period between November 2006 and March 2011, the Council neglected to continue assessing X’s needs, the adequacy of her care package or the needs of her mother (Ms B).

In 2011, the Council contacted Ms B in order to assess the needs of X. They concluded that X had complex needs and displayed high levels of anxiety and behaviours which severely inhibited the daily life and functioning of both herself and her carer (Ms B). Despite the Social Worker in question recommending that the level of direct payments to X should be doubled, her Team Manager blocked this after noting that further use of community resources could be made prior to a request for increased direct payments. Further, the Social Worker did not consult Ms B during the assessment, which meant that she was not able to correct any errors or submit her views during the process. As a result, the Council could not assess her needs as a carer alongside X’s needs. In spite of the Head of Service’s finding that the assessment was inadequate, the Resource Panel used the subsequent results to deduce that X’s current needs could be achieved by maintaining the previous support arrangement (10 hours a month in direct payments).

Accordingly Ms B challenged the Council’s assessment. However it took nearly two years to progress her complaint through the complaints process and for the council to comply with the recommendations of the Investigating Officer and the Ombudsman. Following this, the subsequent assessment still contained errors and proved to be faulty. Once more it failed to sufficiently address the needs of both X and Ms B as a carer, whilst neglecting to consult Ms B during the assessment process. For example the assessment made significant errors about X’s method of communication and sensory needs, it severely understated the difficulties that X faced due to her lack of self-care skills, and it failed to identify any supposedly suitable community resources. Also, the assessment did not consider the impact on Ms B of caring for X, nor did it consider her needs. Taking this into account, there was therefore no way of guaranteeing that the level of support given was sufficient, with the Council also failing to outline what the 10 hours a month in direct payments was meant to address or achieve.

Finally, Ms B made the following complaints to the Ombudsman regarding the Council’s management of X’s care and support:

o    they failed to contact her for over four years;

o    they repeatedly failed to properly assess X’s needs;

o    they failed to properly consider Ms B’s needs as X’s carer;

o    they delayed in properly investigating Ms B’s complaints; and

o    they failed to complete recommendations from the complaint process when it agreed to do so.

The Ombudsman made a finding of fault on behalf of the Council, because of the injustice caused to X and Ms B. As a result, the investigation found that 10 hours a month in direct payments was insufficient to meet the needs of X and Ms B. The Ombudsman found that the Council’s assessments were not fit for purpose, on the following grounds.

Firstly, it was held that the Council had failed to assess X’s needs, which also included the needs of Ms B as carer for X. By doing so, this meant that the Council had breached its statutory duties for an extended period of time. The assessments did not record the support that X and Ms B required and who the Council believed would be best suited to provide it. Also they did not consider X’s needs in accordance with Birmingham City Council’s eligibility criteria for services provided under its Short Breaks Services Statement.

Secondly, the Council did not produce a care plan, with the Ombudsman concluding that the Council’s assessments were more akin to ‘descriptive documents’ that included insufficient detail about X’s and Ms B’s needs. Nor was there any indication of what the aim or intention was behind the 10 hours a month in direct payments.

And finally, the Ombudsman held that the Council had erred in failing to deal with Ms B’s complaint through the Children Act complaint process in a timely manner, given that the process had taken 14 months to complete.

The following recommendations were made:

o    pay Ms B £4,000 for the failure to properly assess Ms B and her care of X from November 2006 to August 2011;

o    pay Ms B a remedy of £1,000 for the stress and anxiety caused due to the Council’s significant delay in completing the Core Assessment and for her time and trouble in bringing the complaint;

o    appoint an independent social worker to assess X’s and Ms B’s needs, within 28 days of publication of this Report. The social worker must complete the assessment (and consult with Ms B whilst doing so) within 45 days, and they should also produce a proposed care plan if needs are identified which require support for the Resource Panel to consider.

o    reimburse Ms B for up to three days unpaid leave from work to enable her to fully engage with the independent social worker to ensure that the assessments are completed within the time-scale allowed;

o    provide the Ombudsman with copies of the independent assessment, the proposed care plan and the outcome of the consideration by the Resources Panel within four months of these findings;

o    make a further payment to Ms B (at a level to be directed by the Ombudsman), following the independent assessment of X’s needs, in order to compensate for any shortfall in services received from August 2011;

o    review the way it assesses children with disabilities and their families, and how these assessments relate to its Short Break Statement and Eligibility Criteria.

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