A council has been criticised for the way it administered a disabled woman’s direct payments and failed to investigate her complaints, leaving her without adequate support for more than two years.
The Local Government Ombudsman has reminded social care teams they must provide clear advice to adults with disabilities to help them negotiate the benefits system, following the report which found Central Bedfordshire had not carried out an accurate financial assessment for a woman known as Ms J since 2010.
The council did not provide Ms J with clear information about its assessments and calculations of how much she was eligible for and what her contributions should be to her care.
It failed to keep adequate records and was not able to produce her care needs assessments, records of meetings or decisions, the ombudsman found.
Ms J’s complaint began when the council carried out a new financial assessment in 2010 and asked her to contribute £57 a week towards the cost of her care. Previously the council had covered the full cost of her support.
She complained and provided more information about her disability-related expenditure, at which point the council reduced her contribution to £24 a week.
Ms J said she told her social worker she could not afford this and was advised to reduce the number of hours her carers worked to cancel out the contribution. She followed the advice, but the council has no record of this conversation.
In 2013 the council wrote to her to say she needed to pay her client contribution and that she owed the council £10,500.
The council also told her she could not claim for some items including physiotherapy and vet bills for her assistance dog. The council said the physiotherapy met a health, not a care, need and so the cost should not come from her direct payment. Ms J had been submitting receipts for physiotherapy since 2006.
The council produced an Actual Personal Budget for Ms J in November 2011 which reduced the number of hours of support, and therefore the payments, Ms J received by half.
But the council did not immediately apply the reduction and it was not clear whether the budget was either correct, or had been communicated to Ms J, the ombudsman said.
Impact of her disability
The ombudsman said the council did not take sufficient account of the impact of Ms J’s disability on what she was able to do, and that led it to refuse to cover costs which arose directly from her disability, such as costs incurred from needing purchases and services to be delivered to her home.
The ombudsman said the council should write off any debts it is currently attempting to recover and pay Ms J £7,000 in compensation.
It should also arrange for an independent social worker to carry out a new care needs assessments and prepare a new support plan.
Local government ombudsman Dr Jane Martin said: “Negotiating the different financial requirements of the adult social care system can be a daunting prospect for people. Local authorities need to remember that many people are relying upon clear and accurate advice and support from their council to help them make informed choices about their care.
“This case highlights the consequences when that clear advice is not available leading to a vulnerable woman receiving less care and support that she might have been entitled to for a number of years.”
The council has accepted the ombudsman’s recommendations.