Woman’s mental health ‘declined’ after council took two and a half years to complete support plan

Croydon council breached Care Act guidance before reneging on its own agreement, ombudsman finds

Croydon town centre
Croydon town centre. (Photo: Croydon Council)

A woman with life-limiting conditions, autism and Down’s syndrome was left with declining mental health after a local authority failed to complete her support plan for more than two and a half years.

A Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation found Croydon council at fault in its treatment of the young woman, Ms C, and her father, Mr B, after she moved into its area in 2014.

Because of the council’s failures, which breached the Care Act 2014, Mr B had to use his own savings and borrow money from friends and family to support Ms C, the watchdog heard.

Nevertheless, she lost out on family holidays and activities as well as social time with people her own age, the investigation found. Her day-to-day routine, which was “very important to her ability to function and feel secure”, was disrupted.

“Mr B says Ms C has become withdrawn and her mental health has declined,” the ombudsman said. “Given that Ms C has a limited lifespan, the impact on a year of her life is greater than for most.”

Croydon council agreed to pay almost £5,000 to remedy the injustice, as well reimbursing direct payments it should have provided and changing its operating procedures.

Continuity of care

Care Act guidance stipulates how local authorities must ensure that people’s care and support – including carers’ packages – continues seamlessly when they move between local authorities.

Needs assessments and care plans are meant to be completed before individuals move. Where this is not possible, ‘receiving’ authorities should continue to fund care in line with existing arrangements.

In December 2014, Croydon council was informed by Ms C’s previous borough that she had moved to live with her father in the area at the end of June 2014 and it was now permanent.

While Croydon completed a care assessment in January 2015, its funding panel deferred a funding decision pending a carer’s assessment of Mr B, but this was not communicated to social workers.

The previous council had continued to fund Ms C’s direct payments so Mr B had not realised he needed to chase Croydon Council. The previous council also paid direct payments to Mr B to support him in his role as a carer. However, at the end of July 2016 Ms C’s direct payment account was empty and the previous council also stopped Mr B’s direct payment. Mr B contacted the previous council, which said it had passed Ms C’s case to Croydon.

Reneging on agreement

It took another seven months, and a formal complaint from Mr B, before Croydon acknowledged it had behaved incorrectly and failed to adhere to Care Act guidance. It agreed in writing to retrospectively pay £21,052 in line with Ms C’s existing support package.

However, the council then “reneged on what it had agreed”, saying it would instead pay out £11,673 in line with what Mr B had personally funded since August 2016. It also put no future support in place.

“Therefore Mr B was once again funding Ms C’s support from his own money, and had no support in his caring role,” the ombudsman said.

In conclusion, the investigation report said that while there were no defined timescales for completing support plans, two and a half years was “clearly too long”.

It said Ms C had become ordinarily resident in Croydon when she chose to move to the borough in June 2014. Croydon became responsible for her care from that date, “and certainly from December 2014” when it was told her move was permanent.

Croydon had also caused injustice to Ms C and both her father and mother, whom she had previously lived with, and left Mr B with a “lack of trust” in the council.

‘Considerable strain’

“This situation has placed considerable strain on the family; the father has come close to not being able to pay his mortgage and other bills,” said Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. “The council has failed in its duties under the Care Act, which states it should have ensured continuity of care for the family when the woman moved into its area.”

A Croydon council spokesperson said the local authority “very much regretted” that the funding to continue Ms C’s care and support was not initially agreed when she relocated to the borough.

“We have reimbursed the family in full for her care and support package and compensated the client and her family for the distress this has caused,” the spokesperson said. “A comprehensive care plan is now in place and we have reviewed and strengthened our procedures to ensure continuation of care when a client relocates.”

Croydon has also informed its funding panel members of the duty the council has under the Care Act 2014 to those that move into the borough.

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