Ombudsman’s investigation: Birmingham City Council (23/3/2006) complaint number 04/C/16195

C was a 19 year old man with Asberger’s Syndrome who was in the care of Birmingham City Council (the council). Whilst living in a council run hostel C had difficulty in relating to the other residents and his had behaviour deteriorated.  In a professionals’ meeting it was decided to place C in supported lodgings to gain more independence and the benefit of some support from a landlord/lady.  The landlady in this case (D) soon found out that C’s ability to care for himself was much more limited than she had been led to believe.  D had not been shown the risk assessment prepared by the council but later learned that he had started a fire in the grounds of the previous hostel and had been self-harming.  Because of the amount of time that D was devoting to C, she asked the council to consider paying her as his carer rather than as a supported lodgings provider.  Initially it was felt that paying D as a carer was not appropriate and supported lodgings were sufficient to meet C’s needs.   D was not satisfied with the explanation that she was given about not receiving a carer’s allowance and complained about that and the fact that the payments that she was receiving for supported lodgings were not being paid on time.

The matter was considered under the council’s complaints procedure.  The review that should have taken place by the Independent Investigating Officer (IIO) within 28 days took 4 months to report back to D.  The report identified that C was unlikely to be ready for independent living in the near future and recommended a needs assessment before his 18th birthday to ensure there was no break in support (it was the council’s policy to refer a young person in need of services to the Adult Services team for assessment at 17.  The assessment should be completed by the time the young person was 17 ½.).    This did not happen.  There was a dispute between Adult Services and the Mental Health team about which team should take responsibility.  D was not satisfied with the outcome of the IIO’s investigation and appealed to a Review Panel.  By the time that the Review Panel first met, the assessment on C had still not been completed.  When the assessment was eventually carried out, it included a report from a specialist voluntary agency which praised the help that C had received from D and recommended that C should remain living with D.  D also received a positive recommendation in C’s Social Needs Assessment but acknowledged that what she was providing was beyond the remit of supported lodgings for care leavers.  It also acknowledged that D received little recognition of the intensive support that she had giving to C.  D believed that as she had in effect been providing a care package from the outset, she should be paid as his carer and be reimbursed for the difference between the rate she had been receiving as a supported lodgings provider and that for a carer, from the date that C went to live with her.

The LGO concluded that the decision to provide supported lodgings for C was correct one and all relevant matters had been taken into consideration.  In relation to D’s complaint she found the following:

(i) It would not have been appropriate to share C’s risk assessment with D, however D should have received more information about his previous behaviour; failure to provide it was maladministration.

(ii) Not paying D as a carer immediately she asserted that she was providing a higher degree of care was entirely reasonable.  It was reasonable to wait and see how C settled and progressed.  However, the progress should have been reviewed at least quarterly, as decided at one of the council meetings, and failure to do so was maladministration.

(iii) The failure to carry out a timely assessment of C’s needs was maladministration and should be a cause of considerable concern to the council.

(iv)  The delay in deciding whether or not D was actually providing a care package was maladministration.

(v) The council argued that D could have ceased to provide lodgings for C at any time if she had felt that she could not manage.  This was an extraordinary argument.  C had already had one failed placement at the hostel and a second failed placement could have been disastrous, not to mention the council would have had to find suitable alternative accommodation at short notice using staff and resources that were in short supply.  The delays in payment to D were completely unacceptable and were maladministration

The LGO recommended that the council should consider:

o The action needed to ensure assessment for care leavers were taken by the time they were 17 ½ years old and where necessary care packages were in place by the time they were 18.
o The action needed to ensure the seamless transition for Children’s to Adult Services.
o The action need to ensure that the recommendations of IIOs and Reviews Panels are recorded, monitored and acted upon within the appropriate timescales.
o The action needed to ensure the review of individual cases was conducted within appropriate timescales.
o The action needed to ensure that payments to supported lodgings providers were made promptly and reliably.
o The action needed to ensure there was effective communication and liaison between social service an housing benefit

The council should ensure that report was submitted on these matters to an appropriate Member body and a copy given to the LGO within 6 months.

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