Disability campaigners have reported Norfolk County Council to the Care Quality Commission for ‘disregarding’ its statutory duties under the Care Act 2014.
Equal Lives, which represents more than 50 user-led groups in the county, wants the regulator to investigate what it claims are ‘systemic’ failures in care and support planning.
The group says eligibility thresholds have been raised and care package reviews are being used to reduce, or completely withdraw, support for people regardless of need. It also claims the decision to remove ‘wellbeing’ payments for personal budget holders last year has had a “devastating impact” on service users’ lives.
Section 1 of the Care Act requires local authorities to promote wellbeing through their adult social care functions. The statutory guidance underpinning the act also says care package reviews “must not be used to arbitrarily reduce a care and support package”.
Council disputes claims
Equal Lives claims the local authority is breaching these duties and has submitted evidence from eight cases to the CQC.
The council told Community Care it “disputes any suggestion” of unlawful care but said it took the issues raised by Equal Lives “extremely seriously” and would review decision-making.
The CQC is considering the information received from Equal Lives. The watchdog has not inspected a local authority since 2010 but the Care Act allows the government to order it to do so in exceptional circumstances. The power has not been used since the act came into force last year.
‘I fear my personal budget will be cut to the bare minimum’
Martin suffers from scoliosis and Klippel-Feil syndrome. He says cuts to his personal budget mean he can no longer go to the gym, or have massages and short-breaks he feels aided his wellbeing and helped keep him out of hospital.
“Before my personal budget I was in and out of hospital having blood transfusions…[Now] my personal budget has been wiped out,” he told Equal Lives..
“I still have 10 hours PA support but nothing else now…My worrying fear is my PA support will be cut to the bare minimum. If that happens I won’t be going out as much and will be stuck indoors. They need to talk to us. They need to realise how much of an impact the cuts are making not just me, but many of my friends.”
‘Cut too deep and too fast’
Mark Harrison, chief executive at Equal Lives, told Community Care: “The council has had to make huge savings but they’ve cut too fast and too deep and people have been left without the help they need.
“People who’ve received social care for years are now being bumped out of eligibility even if their needs have increased. And it’s ironic that wellbeing payments were cut in the year when the Care Act came into force, given wellbeing is absolutely at the heart of the act.
“Norfolk has gone from one of the leaders in personalisation and co-production to situations where we’ve got people queuing up in our advocacy system after having their support cut.”
Harold Bodmer, Norfolk County Council’s director of adult services, said: “We have a statutory duty to ensure vulnerable people’s care needs are met. The care we provide is as set out in the Care Act and we dispute any suggestion that we are not following this.
“However we take the issues raised by Equal Lives very seriously, and have arranged to meet with them to talk about these. It’s important we demonstrate we do things correctly so we will also look again at the individual cases they have raised and I will be commissioning external scrutiny of our processes and reviewing our decision-making to ensure people have access to the right personalised care. If anyone has any concerns about their care we would always encourage them to contact us.”
Bodmer, who will take over as president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services in April, said adult social care departments were under “huge pressure” across the country and Norfolk was no exception.
“We’ve restructured every aspect of our department over the past five years in order to make considerable savings and with the clear purpose of minimising the impact of the budget reductions on people who use our services.”
Andrea Sutcliffe, CQC’s chief inspector of adult social care, said: “We have received concerns from Equal Lives regarding the provision of adult social care services at Norfolk County Council. We are considering the information and will respond directly in due course.”