Community care assessments should be left to social workers…not lawyers

What’s the issue?
Community care assessments.

What’s the case?
Ireneschild v Lambeth LBC.

What was the case about?
The role of the courts in policing community care assessments.

How did the case arise?
Linda Ireneschild is physically disabled and largely unable to move unsupported. She was a Lambeth Council tenant who lived in a two-bed flat on the first and second floors of a converted house.

The flat had a number of internal stairs. Ireneschild was concerned that, as she aged, the risk of her falling when using the stairs was increasing. She applied to Lambeth’s housing department for a transfer and was awarded additional transfer points for her disabilities.

However, pressure on social housing in Lambeth was such that Ireneschild was unlikely to be offered a suitable property for a number of years. Ireneschild then turned to Lambeth social services in her attempt to solve her accommodation problem. An occupational therapy assessment was carried out which concluded she was at risk of falls in the flat.

Lambeth then carried out a full community care assessment. The result of the assessment was that Ireneschild would be offered domiciliary care services, but not accommodation, by social services.

Ireneschild was dissatisfied with the community care assessment. She argued that it had failed to take into account a relevant consideration, namely the OT analysis of falling risk, and, as a result, had underestimated her needs. She was successful in quashing the assessment in the High Court. Lambeth appealed to the Court of Appeal.

What did the Court decide?
The Court of Appeal overturned the High Court’s decision. The High Court had not properly assessed the evidence.

It said the OT assessment had been taken into account in the community care assessment: the community care assessment referred to another report, which itself referred to the OT assessment, and this was enough to show that the community care assessment had taken it into account.

Are there wider points here?
Yes. The Court of Appeal criticised the High Court for having failed to appreciate the context within which a community care assessment operates.

It said: “It is an assessment prepared by a social worker for his or her employers. It is not a final determination of a legal dispute by a lawyer which may be subjected to over-zealous textual analysis. Courts must be wary of expecting so much of hard pressed social workers that we risk-taking them away, unnecessarily, from their front-line duties.”

The Court of Appeal also stressed that disputes of this sort should not normally end up in the courts. The statutory social services complaints procedure and the Local Government Ombudsman should be used instead.

The overall message, then: the business of assessing need and making service provisions is, ordinarily, for social workers and not lawyers.

The view from the courtroom
Speaking to Community Care about the decision, barrister Jon Holbrook of 2-3 Gray’s Inn Square Chambers, who appeared on behalf of Lambeth, said: “In recent years, too many challenges to community care assessments have ended up in the courts. This judgment should help social workers to arrest this trend so that they can spend more time providing services to clients and less time involved in court proceedings”.

Further information
Full case report

Ed Mitchell is a solicitor, editor of Social Care Law Today and Community Care’s legal expert


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