A council conducted an unjustified and unbalanced adult protection investigation into a man after he lodged a complaint with the authority over his aunt's care, the Local Government Ombudsman has found.
Ombudsman Anne Seex issued a report into the case today, three years after she concluded in a draft report that Birmingham Council had been wrong to carry out the investigation and handled it badly. However, the council took over two years to admit that the investigation was unjustified.
The subject of the investigation, Mr A, had, in 2003, been given enduring power of attorney to manage the finances of his aunt, Mrs L, who had vascular dementia. When she moved into a care home in February 2005 as a full self-funder, the relevant team manager agreed that the council would pay her fees to the home and then invoice her; as a result Mr A paid the money into a pre-existing "money manager account" set up to manage her previous home care fees.
Council reneged on agreement
In May that year, it rescinded this offer and ceased paying the home, and the team manager asked Mr A to pay the fees directly. Mr A continued to pay the money into the money manager account and complained, under the council's social services procedures, about it reneging on its offer.
In September 2005, the team manager commenced an adult protection investigation into Mr A for alleged financial abuse of Mrs L. The investigation was triggered after Mrs L's psychiatrist contacted the council, in September 2005, to say she had visited the home and found that it was not being paid and that Mrs L had no pocket money.
However, Mr A started paying Mrs L's fees directly in the same month, and the council also quickly learned that he had asked the care home to invoice him for Mrs L's day-to-day expenses. Despite this, adult protection inquiries continued until Mrs L's death in March 2007, with the council due to apply for receivership to manage Mrs L's finances itself.
Investigation was wrong and poorly handled
The ombudsman found that for the team manager to launch the adult protection investigation while subject to a complaint by Mr A "created a real danger of bias".
She also found that the manager and other staff failed to follow procedures in commencing the investigation without considering whether the alleged abuse "crossed a significant threshold of seriousness".
During the course of the investigation, staff did not assemble or evaluate information about the case fairly, interpreting Mr A's actions adversely when they were fair and reasonable, and ignoring information that cast him in a more favourable light.
They also "generated suspicions about Mr A on the flimsiest basis", such as comments from the care home owner about him allegedly getting Mrs L to sign paperwork relating to a financial policy that had matured, despite there being no evidence for this.
"The council has caused Mr A the considerable injustice of being the suspected perpetrator in an unnecessarily and unreasonably prolonged adult protection investigation," said the ombudsman report. "He was the subject of discussions that made no attempt to be balanced. Mr A was deeply hurt and upset by what occurred."
The ombudsman became involved in the case because Mr A was not satisfied with the council's response to his complaints.
A draft report, issued by the ombudsman in July 2009, found that the council had been wrong to commence the investigation. However, though the council then agreed that it had mishandled the investigation and Mr A's complaints, compensating him with £350, it defended its decision to start the safeguarding probe.
It maintained this position until September 2011, when the council's adult services director wrote to Mr A, to offer an "unreserved apology" for the council's "failure to properly evaulate all material facts" before deciding whether the threshold for an adult protection investigation had been passed.
The ombudsman's report has been issued in the public interest and Seex said its publication was "an appropriate remedy" for the injustice suffered by Mr A.
Birmingham Council said this "regrettable case" dated back to 2005 and that that its approach to adult safeguarding had been "completely transformed" since then, a view with which Mr A was in agreement. A spokesperson added that timescales for investigation, assessment and case conferences were all "monitored publicly and all very good"; quality audits were carried out of safeguarding practice, and multi-agency oversight of safeguarding was stronger.
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