Decision Date: 12th February 2021
Ms B cares for her partner and they both suffer from Chronic Fatigue – Ms B’s partner also having a diagnosis of ME. Ms B’s partner had a care plan for some time which included a personal budget which was delivered via direct payments and included some respite away from the home for them both to provide relief from chores. In years previous to the one with which the complaint is concerned, surplus funds from the direct payment were recovered by the council. and the budget for respite was paid as a separate payment.
The direct payment was reviewed in March 2019 following which Ms B chased the council on a number of occasions regarding a lack of respite payment included in the budget as it had been in previous years. In August 2019 Ms B made a formal complaint regarding the lack of respite payment and in October 2019 the council apologised for the delay responding to her complaint. The council in November 2019 again apologised for the delay in responding to the complaint. In December 2019 the council reviewed the case but there is no evidence of a respite budget being put in place at this point.
In January the council contacted Ms B to arrange a review of the direct payment and Ms B requested the review include a carers’ assessment as it had not in the previous review. In February the annual review was completed but still no respite budget was included in the personal budget.
Ms B made another formal complaint in March 2020 and in July the council responded apologising for the delay in responding to the complaint, for the poor standard of service and for not putting in place a respite payment in 2019. The council told Ms B in their response that there had been an underspend of the direct payment and this money could have been used for respite. Ms B asked to escalate the complaint but the council refused.
Ms B requested information in May 2020 regarding whether the direct payment could be used for some specific activities. In June a council officer was allocated to carrying out the carers’ assessment. Ms B asked again whether the direct payment could be used for some specific activities and was told this would be detailed in the new plan. Ms B asked again about the respite payment.
Ms B complained to the ombudsman and following this the council accepted its service had fallen below the expected standards and agreed to carry out a carers’ assessment in January 2021, pay for 4 weeks respite in December 2020 and make a symbolic payment to Ms B of £250 in recognition of the time and trouble she had spent chasing the council about these issues.
What was found
The Council accepted that it was delayed in completing a carer’s assessment for Ms B in 2019 and 2020.
The Council also accepted there were delays in responding to complaints and queries, and stated that it had taken the following action:
- agreed to carry out closer monitoring and more regular supervision of cases to ensure officers received the required support and guidance;
- introduced a new escalation process to ensure there are no unnecessary delays;
- arranged for training for team managers;
- agreed as part of one-to-one supervisions and team meetings for direct payment assessors to clarify what a direct payment can be used for;
- agreed to hold a team meeting for the complaints team to highlight the importance of effective complaint handling.
The LGO highlighted that the Council failed to put respite care provision in place for all of 2019, and only put the 2020 provision in place, at the end of the year. This was fault.
There was no evidence the Council ever told Ms B she could have used the underspend DPs funds to cover respite care, and the LGO said it was understandable Ms B felt unsure and unable to apply the DPs funds for respite care, as the Council failed to include respite in the budget and delayed 2020 payment until the end of 2020. Therefore the LGO recommended the Council pay Ms B a further £350 to reflect the lost respite care provision for both years (£600 in all, therefore).
Points to note for councils, professionals, people who use services and their carers, advocacy providers and members of the public
Under section 10 of the Care Act 2014 carers’ assessments are required to be carried out by the council in cases where a person who is caring for another adult person appears to have support needs, or may have support needs in the future.
Section 10(5) provides that
A carer’s assessment must include an assessment of—
(a) whether the carer is able, and is likely to continue to be able, to provide care for the adult needing care,
(b) whether the carer is willing, and is likely to continue to be willing, to do so,
(c) the impact of the carer’s needs for support on the matters specified in section 1(2),
(d) the outcomes that the carer wishes to achieve in day-to-day life, and
(e) whether, and if so to what extent, the provision of support could contribute to the achievement of those outcomes.
It is efficient for any carers’ assessment to be carried out in conjunction with the cared for person’s assessment and own care planning process but equally it must be remembered that a carer’s assessment should still be offered whether or not the person they are caring for has had a needs assessment or been found eligible or has got a care plan.
Section 25(1) Care Act (and 25(2) in relation to direct payments based plans) states that the care plan will reiterate what the needs are (from the assessment) and how the personal budget and direct payment are to be used to meet these needs.
It is clear from the Guidance that councils should not have processes in place for the application or monitoring of direct payments which create an unreasonable amount of work for the person receiving the direct payment. In this case the lack of clarity provided about what the direct payment could be used for and the repeated ignored requests for authorisation for some specific activities to be able to be funded via the direct payment created a significant burden and a lack of control over the organising of personalised care to meet the needs.
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The full Local Government Ombudsman report of North Yorkshire County Council’s actions can be found herehttps://www.lgo.org.uk/decisions/adult-care-services/assessment-and-care-plan/20-002-410