Warrington Council at fault for breaching its duty under Section 47 of the Care Act to take reasonable steps to prevent or mitigate the loss or damage to a person’s belongings

Decision Date: 11th March 2020

What Happened

Ms C complained on behalf of her daughter, Miss B.

Miss B had originally been living in supported living accommodation, but decided she no longer wanted the support, and wanted to live somewhere else. Her social worker served notice to the care company on the 25th May 2017.

A few days later, Miss B was hospitalised under the Mental Health Act, and remained there until February 2018.

On 16th June 2017 the company manager reminded the Council that the notice period was ending on the 23rd June, and advised that Miss B’s belongings needed to be taken from the premises before then. The company also phoned Miss B whilst she was in hospital to state the same thing.

Miss B, feeling under pressure, arranged for a removal company to pack and store some of her belongings from the flat, but did not have enough money to remove every item.

The social worker attempted to contact the company on the 5th July for an update on the remaining items, but received an automated response stating the manager was on holiday. She then left a message for a different member of staff.

Miss B’s social worker left the Council on 21st July, so she was allocated a different officer on the 16th August.

The new social worker contacted the company on 1 November 2017, regarding the left over belongings.

The company had put some items in storage, but left others in the flat, which it then re-let. It provided an inventory for the items it had put into storage.

Miss B disputed the contents of the inventory.

When Miss B was discharged from hospital, in February 2018, she realised many of her belongings were missing. She told the company and the Council, and then later told the police as they suspected some things had been stolen.

Miss B and Ms C complained to the LGO after the Council stated there was nothing more they could do. Ms C said that the Council acted in breach of Section 47 of the Care Act, as it failed to protect Miss B’s belongings when she was in hospital and unable to deal with them. As a result, some of them were lost and others were damaged by the new tenants when the property was re-let.

After the LGO started its investigation, the Council asked Ms C for further information, including a comprehensive list of all the items she believed had gone missing from Miss B’s flat and an estimate of each item’s value, and met with Miss B and her family to discuss the situation.

The council offered to make a payment to Miss B for the lost belongings, which Ms C accepted on her behalf.

What was found

The Council tried to contend that they didn’t know her belongings were at risk. But it accepted in the end that the company directly contacting Miss B whilst she was in hospital was inappropriate, and ‘fell below the standard expected of a commissioned care provider” It accepted that, in doing so, the company “failed to protect her dignity and privacy.” The Council apologised for this.

The LGO highlighted that the Council knew Miss B had given notice to the company, and that she was in hospital, unable to deal with her belongings. The Council was also aware that Miss B’s things had to be removed from the flat by 23 June 2017. Therefore, it should have known they were at risk.

Furthermore, there was a period of one month when Miss B was without a social worker and unaware of what was happening with her belongings. The new social worker did not contact the company to find out what was happening with her things until November 2017.

Therefore the LGO concluded that the Council failed in its duty under Section 47 of the Care Act to take reasonable steps to prevent or mitigate the loss or damage to Miss B’s belongings.

The Council had already offered financial compensation to cover the loss of Miss B’s belongings, which was sufficient for the LGO. However, the LGO recommended that the Council pay a further £300 in recognition of the distress Miss B suffered.

The LGO did not investigate these parts of the complaint:

Ms C said the events affected Miss B’s health, resulting in hospital treatment. This point was essentially about liability for personal injury which is for the courts to decide, not the LGSCO (although that organisation does sometimes recommend compensation for harm resulting from maladministration).

Ms C also said the Council was in breach of Regulation 18 of the Care Quality Commission (Registration) Regulations 2009 in failing to notify the Care Quality Commission (CQC) of this incident. The LGSCO said it is for the CQC to make that kind of judgement, as the appointed regulator.

Points for the public, councils, families, housing providers, and advocates

Section 47 of the Care Act 2014 applies where an adult is admitted to hospital and it appears to the local authority that there is a danger of loss or damage to the adult’s belongings because:

the adult is unable (whether permanently or temporarily) to protect or deal with them, and no suitable arrangements have been or are being made.

Section 47 of the Act has not received much attention since its introduction. It is the successor to the old s48 of the National Assistance Act, and the LGO has interpreted it here to extend to a departure from supported living into a psychiatric hospital. There is no reason for the LGSCO not to have done that, on the wording of the section.

The company here was the care company, not the housing provider. Unless it was also the agent of the landlord, for housing management functions, which is common in the sector, it was not responsible for emptying the room, for the next tenant, or entitled to touch Miss B’s personal effects. It would not have been commissioned to have done so, not by the council, but it may have had an interest in the new tenant coming IN to the property, perhaps.

The wrongdoing on the part of the council’s commissioned provider, therefore, was touching the goods of the client without consent. If the company was the housing management agent, however, surrender of the property upon notice would mean that after a while, the goods would simply be forfeited. Here, knowing what had become of the woman and her current indisposition at the time, the provider and the council simply failed to do what was necessary.

And commissioned providers, owe human rights – particularly respect for a person’s private life, family life and the home. And any councils should have known that there is still a backstop responsibility for a person’s goods, if they are suddenly hospitalised.

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The full Local Government Ombudsman report of Warrington Council’s actions can be found here