Essex County Council at fault for delays in allocating a social worker, which delayed a person’s ability to move closer to family

Decision Date: 19th March 2021

What Happened

Mrs Z complained on behalf of her adult son, Mr Y. 

Mr Y had been receiving support from Essex County council since he was a child.

Prior to turning 18, Mr Y received support from social worker A through the Council’s Children’s, Young People and Family Services (CYPFS).

When Mr Y left full time education in 2018, he transitioned to the Council’s Adult Social Care team. The Council stated that Mr Y would need a new social worker with relevant skills and knowledge, so social worker A stopped providing support in February 2019. 

The LGO report stated that the Council maintained a care and support plan for Mr Y on a regular basis since 2018, which found he was eligible for support from social workers. Mr Y was also living in supported accommodation, but the report did not clarify the funding arrangement. 

Between February and December 2019 Mr Y did not have a social worker allocated to him. 

Mrs Z contacted the Council 10 times about the issue, and also highlighted that Mr Y wanted to move to Redbridge to be closer to his family. 

The Council did not respond to all of Mrs Z’s emails or calls. The responses Mrs Z did receive however, stated that Mr Y was not currently allocated to a social worker because he was being transferred between children’s and adult’s services.

Mr Y was allocated social worker B in January 2020.

Social worker B left the Council’s employment in April 2020, and stopped providing care to Mr Y. 

The Council did not allocate another social worker until September 2020. 

Mrs Z contacted the Council 3 times during this period, requesting a new social worker to be assigned. 

The Council did not reply to Mrs Z. 

After the social worker was allocated in September, Mrs Z remained unhappy and complained to the LGO. 

The Council told the LGO that the current social worker was still providing Mr Y support and helping to facilitate his move to Redbridge. 

What was found

There was a delay in the Council allocating Mr Y a social worker between February and December 2019. The Council stated in its defence that social worker A kept in contact with Mrs Z during this time. 

There is no right to a social worker under the Care Act, in explicit terms. However, since the council used social workers to implement care and support plans, and this person hadn’t had one for such a long time, the LGO stated that the Council was at fault for failing to provide a social worker, and also at fault for failing to respond to Mrs Z’s correspondence. 

Regarding the period between April and September 2020, the LGO highlighted that the Council suspended all social worker activity due to COVID-19 in March 2020. The LGO stated that social workers were instructed to make visits solely for safeguarding purposes. 

With that in mind, the LGO stated that the pandemic impacted the Council’s ability to provide Mr Y with a social worker from April onwards. It also said that the pandemic would also have impacted on its ability to facilitate Mr Y’s move to Redbridge, because most supported living providers were not accepting new residents. 

However, the Council failed to communicate any of this information with Mrs Z, despite her repeated attempts of contact.  The LGO stated that there was “no reasonable justification” for this, and therefore the Council was at fault for failing to respond to Mrs Z. 

These faults resulted in Mr Y not having a social worker for long periods of time, which meant that the Council were not meeting his assessed eligible needs. This injustice was made worse by the Council failing to respond to Mrs Z. Finally, but for the fault, the LGO considered it likely that Mr Y could have moved closer to his family sooner. 

The LGO recommended that the Council should:

  • apologise to Mr Y for not providing him a social worker between February and December 2019 
  • explain in writing to Mr Y why he was not provided with a social worker between April and September 2020
  • pay Mr Y £500 in recognition of the fault identified
  • should apologise in writing to Mrs Z about failing to communicate with her in a reliable and timely manner
  • pay Mrs Z £150 in recognition of her time and trouble spent pursuing her complaint
  • review its processes about the transition of customers from CYPFS to adult social care and allocating social workers without delay.
  • review and improve its communications policy to ensure timely and reliable responses to its customers.

Points to note for councils, professionals, people using services, carers and advocacy groups

Essex County Council failed in several ways in its interactions with Mr Y and Mrs X. However, it did start with the recognition that Mr Y ought to be supported by a social worker who was suitably trained or qualified to do so when transferring the care to its ASC department. 

A period of ten months to allocate a social worker was not surprisingly found to be unacceptable and this delay was characterised as fault. Whilst councils have backlogs and the challenges of sourcing and retaining qualified social workers, Mr Y had a support plan that was unsupported by a social worker. His case was allocated to a worker, but they only maintained contact regarding the lack of allocation, rather than the real issue of importance to him which would have been his care plan and subsequent wish to move. 

The Care and Support statutory guidance clearly identifies that councils must act promptly to meet identified needs. This includes ensuring that appropriate action is taken to facilitate care and support planning. Mrs Z should not have had to contact the council on ten occasions to obtain the promised support. 

Once a social worker was allocated to Mr Y they then left after 3 months, so again he remained without a social worker to progress his wish to move to be nearer to his family. The council claimed that the impact of Covid-19 had affected its ability to allow social workers to visit individuals except for safeguarding purposes. The delay that then ensued in 2020 led to a delay in Mr Y being able to move to supported accommodation, for which the council was found to be at fault. 

There will no doubt have been some challenges for all councils in ensuring that they responded to individual needs during covid-19, and there may well have been limitations to visiting potential accommodation but this council failed to communicate that properly to Mr Y. 

There is a clear message to councils within this complaint: communicate why you cannot do something. 

One puzzle for us is that the LGO reports that Essex ‘suspended all social worker activity other than safeguarding’. But it was not one of the councils that adopted Care Act easements, and yet the LGO said nothing about that? That (to our mind) amounts to leaving the impression that the LGO thinks that the pandemic itself justified breaching statutory duties, albeit that this was characterised as fault. 

Even if the LGO was happy to treat the pandemic as an unavoidably good reason for not allowing its social workers to visit Mr Y, the LGO doesn’t say why that also excused any other work required by the statute, without face to face work. 

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

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