A complaint that a refusal to re-house a carer
nearer her mother uncovered a conflict between a council’s policies
on social services and housing. Graham Hopkins reports.
Mandy Todd is an unassuming middle-aged woman.
She is one of the country’s estimated 5.7 million informal carers,
without whom already over-stretched social services departments
would simply snap. Indeed, Todd had never asked for any help from
Todd cares for her disabled mother who lives
on the same council estate in Scunthorpe. However, her mother lived
a 10-minute walk away. Todd would visit four or five times a day.
Travelling took up to an hour and a half out of her day – and added
to the ordinary stress of home life with a shift-working husband
and two teenage children.
During one visit she noticed that a house
opposite her mother’s was empty. She applied to move but was turned
down on the grounds that she was “adequately housed” and didn’t
qualify for a move on the council’s points system (points are
awarded based on housing need). This disappointment turned to upset
when she read in the local paper about the council’s commitment to
supporting carers. Todd didn’t feel too supported. And, for the
first time in her life, she complained.
Council departments realise they get things
wrong but would claim to be “learning organisations” – in that they
are willing to learn from mistakes or comments. It is this desire
towards improvement that can be to staff such a great selling point
for complaints procedures. Thus rather than crafting negative or
blame-filled procedures, they can be positive and influential.
But the reality does not always reflect this.
Complaints can drag on and little changes except the worsening of
staff attitudes toward complaints. How refreshing then that Mandy
Todd’s complaint met with a helpful response by North Lincolnshire
social and housing services department.
“It’s not just processing complaints – a lot
of my work is taking the information from complaints and using it
positively – and turning it into service development, really,” says
Debbie Fagan, liaison and complaints officer for housing services
in the recently merged joint directorate. The “liaison” part of the
job title reflects an understanding that housing is not just bricks
and mortar but accommodates health, education, and social services.
“It is about linking in with others and making things work,” adds
“Basically, Mandy Todd’s complaint was that
the council was saying one thing in one breath and then something
else in another,” she says. “In our long-term care charter Better
Care, Higher Standards, we had pledged that social services would
support carers.” The council, however, because of the costs
involved, did not operate a “like for like” transfer policy (unless
through mutual exchange).
“We have a notification system,” continues
Fagan, “that where issues are raised about conflicting policy I
will notify the director who will then automatically instruct a
review of the policies. And that’s what he did.”
Fagan and housing colleagues looked at how the
allocations and transfer policy could work in the favour of carers.
“We came up with a scheme in which anybody who was in receipt of
the full carers’ allowance would get additional points on the
allocation scheme,” she says.
While this policy change was making its way
through the system, the house Todd had wanted was allocated to a
homeless family. However, another house very nearby became vacant
soon afterwards. And under the new scheme with her boosted carers
points, Todd was allocated the house. “It’s been great,” she says,
“now mum even comes to us for dinner sometimes.”
It has sparked a new lease of life for Todd
who has now discovered a carers support group which sponsors trips
and activities, such as painting water colours. She points to her
accomplished effort: “First time I’ve ever done anything like
that,” she says, with a broad stroke of surprise in her voice.
It was the same with her complaint. Sometimes
you can never know the potential until you try.
Scheme: transfer points for full-time carers
in housing allocations.
Location: North Lincolnshire.
Staffing: complaints and liaison officer.
Inspiration: a complaint about conflicting
housing and social services policy.
Cost: normal staff time.
For more information call Debbie Fagan
on 01724 296 426 or e-mail: Debbie_Fagan@northlincs.gov.uk
Housing allocations policy and annual
complaints report available free of charge.