Council pays out thousands of pounds over ‘shambolic’ social work assessment systems

Ombudsman investigation finds that "few, if any" assessments of adults with mental health problems were carried out in "proper manner" by Birmingham Council.

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A council has paid out over £10,000 in compensation to a social care provider and service users, after a watchdog found that the local authority’s “shambolic” systems for social work assessments of adults with mental health problems had caused “injustice”.

The local government ombudsman upheld a complaint that Birmingham City Council failed to have proper procedures in place for carrying out and recording mental health support assessments. The failings had led to “unreasonable” delays in assessments and direct payments being processed.

The ombudsman ruled that there had “been maladministration by the council causing injustice” during the period of the complaint (2008 and 2009).

“For at least two years its systems for dealing with requests for assessments by adults with mental health problems were shambolic,” the report added.

 

Key findings

For an 18-month period there was “no agreed method” for people to request a mental health needs assessment
.

Social care teams had no formal process for recording assessments. One manager told investigators “she left a pile of letters on her desk awaiting allocation to a social worker for assessment”, while another advised that details were kept in a book, “which can no longer be found”.

For clients of the care provider, the assessments were only carried out after “numerous approaches and in some cases only after the threat of Judicial Review”.

Following an assessment, requests by a client for direct payments to meet the needs identified “were not properly progressed and in some cases were improperly denied”.

“Few, if any” assessments were carried out in a proper manner. Records were “inadequate” and there was “no proper audit trail”.

Assessments carried out on the same person, often within short periods of time, recommended “significantly different levels of services without any real evidence about how each decision on need had been reached”.

 

The complaint was launched by a social care company that delivers personal support for people with mental health problems. The company is funded by payments from clients, many via direct payments, and often started providing services to clients while they awaited the outcome of council’s assessments.

Investigators found that the care provider came “close to bankruptcy” as there were “substantial delays” in the council carrying out and processing assessments. Service users also ran the risk of “running up large debts” to the company due to the delays.

“During these delays the Company continued to provide services to its clients without payments as it considered the clients were too vulnerable to stop providing those services,” the report found.

Birmingham City Council accepted the ombudsman’s findings. The Council has agreed to make backdated payments to all nine of the care provider’s clients whose complaints were part of the ombudsman’s investigation.

The local authority also agreed to pay the company £10,000 for the “time and trouble” taken in pursuing the complaint.

The ombudsman said that the council “has already taken significant steps to improve the services it provides to people with mental health needs” in light of the investigation.

A Birmingham City Council spokesman said: “Birmingham City Council accepts the Ombudsman’s findings but wishes to make clear that a number of procedural changes have been made in recent years.

“We have also carried out a review of our mental health services and that in turn has informed revisions to our mental health procedures.”

is Community Care’s community editor

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