Kent Council has been criticised by the Local Government Ombudsman over failures in its policies on direct payments and family reviews, after a mother was left to look after two sons with learning disabilities when she felt suicidal.
Mrs Carter (not her real name) claimed Kent had failed to assess her family’s needs properly, and that it should have provided more funding through direct payments to cover respite care for Michael, the youngest of her three children.
Kent carried out an initial assessment of Michael’s needs in July 2004, which led to Mrs Carter using one of the council’s respite facilities. From October 2005 she used direct payments to employ a personal assistant to help care for Michael. When she asked for more support in May 2007, the council agreed to increase direct payments.
Dispute over payments
However, the council refused Mrs Carter’s request in November 2007 to increase payments again, leading to a dispute that lasted several months.
Ombudsman Tony Redmond ordered Kent to pay the family about £12,000 to cover the value of the payments it failed to make for overnight respite care, plus £500 for Mrs Carter’s “time and trouble” in pursuing the complaint.
The ombudsman also accused the council of a “piecemeal” response to Mrs Carter’s requests for help and said the failure appeared to be systemic.
Department of Health guidance issued in 2003 said direct payments “must be made to all individuals who are eligible to receive them and want them”.
But Kent’s direct payments procedure, introduced in July 2007, said payments for disabled children would not be provided for overnight breaks in a residential respite unit or foster placement because these services were already funded and provided directly by the council.
Kent first took the decision not to allow children and their families to access direct payments for overnight stays in 2004. Although this was supposed to be temporary, the ombudsman said Kent “took no steps to ensure it complied with its statutory duty until it was awarded pathfinder status some four years later”.
Bill Anderson, Kent’s director of children’s services, said: “The decision not to provide direct payments was made four years ago because of the potential impact on other services to disabled children and their families, including the risk of closure of the council’s own respite units.
“We now have a new direct payments system run by a parent-led organisation and have more than doubled our direct payments to families of disabled children this year.”