Council criticised for poor care assessment delivered by third party provider

Ombudsman warns councils that accountability for social care functions cannot be outsourced

Councils should remember they are still accountable for social care functions delivered by third parties on their behalf, the Local Government Ombudsman has warned.

Somerset council has been asked by the ombudsman to pay more than £6,000 to a young man and his family after an inaccurate assessment of his needs left him without direct payments for 14 months.

Third party providers

The council claimed the complaint made by the man’s mother to the ombudsman should have been made to Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. The mental health trust had been contracted by Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group, on the council’s behalf, to assess and meet the eligible needs of adults with Asperger’s syndrome in the area.

But the ombudsman reminded the council it could not delegate its duty to assess and meet people’s eligible social care needs, even if had delegated the delivery of that function to a third party.

The young man had Asperger’s syndrome and hearing difficulties, and used the direct payments to access community facilities and maintain a social life.

The trust stopped his payments in December 2013 after those carrying out the assessment wrongly believed he would be starting an apprenticeship and thus no longer met the eligibility criteria for social care. This meant that for 14 months, the young man’s only contact with the outside world was through his mother and stepfather. He only started receiving payments again in March 2015, after a reassessment of his needs in January 2015 found him eligible for social care.

Lack of evidence

The ombudsman found that there was no evidence of how the trust reviewed the man’s needs in 2013, no written record of discussions with him or his mother and no evidence of how the decision that he no longer met eligibility criteria was made.

She concluded that there was a fault in the way that the trust carried out the review and stopped his care package and, as the trust was carrying out these functions on the council’s behalf, this was a fault on the part of the council.

She also said that the council was at fault for failing to ensure that the trust kept full records for justifying its decisions.

Ultimately responsible

Ombudsman Dr Jane Martin said this should serve as a reminder to all councils that they remained ultimately accountable for the delivery of statutory functions carried out on their behalf by third parties.

She said: “Councils are well within their rights to get best value for money from care contracts. However, councils remain responsible for the way those services are provided, including dealing with any complaints.”

Martin added that changing models of service delivery had confused the matter of who was accountable for a local service, both for the public and for local authorities.

She clarified that accountability for council functions remained with local authorities when outsourced, irrespective of whether the provider was a private company, third sector organisation or another publicly-funded body.

£6,000 payout

Somerset council has agreed to accept the ombudman’s recommendations, which include paying the man almost £6,000, the equivalent of the sum he would have received in direct payments from December 2013 to January 2015. It will also pay the man’s mother £500 for the stress and anxiety of having to meet her son’s needs during the period without direct payments.

The council has also agreed to review how it monitors its contracts with third parties to make sure full records of all care reviews and recommendations are kept.

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