A council’s failure to act properly on safeguarding concerns left a vulnerable man financially exploited in the months before his death, the Local Government Ombudsman has found.
The watchdog said several of the failings identified in the case may not have occurred if Essex County Council had provided regular supervision to the social worker involved.
The man, in his 80s, lived alone. He was admitted to hospital in March 2012 after a fall. He was then transferred to a care home to allow for an assessment of his needs to see if he could return home. He remained in the care home until he died in February 2013.
An investigation found the council delayed acting on claims from the man’s family that he was being financially exploited by a younger female friend. After his death, the family discovered the man’s home had been ransacked and more than £10,000 had been withdrawn from his bank account over a seven month period.
The ombudsman recommended the council reimburse the man’s estate to an amount that covered the unexplained withdrawals and five months of care home charges he shouldn’t have paid.
Series of failings
The watchdog found a series of failings in the council’s handling of the case, including:
- There was a delay of four months before the man was allocated a social worker to review his needs following his discharge to the care home.,This was despite the fact that he was originally discharged to the care home temporarily to allow for an assessment to help decide whether he should return home.
- There was a three-month delay taking action on the social worker’s request for a financial assessment to see if the man should contribute to his care home costs.
- Eight months after the man’s admission to hospital, the council should have had serious concerns about the man’s vulnerability and possible financial abuse from his friend. This was because the man appeared confused some of the time and his care home fees had not been paid. The woman had also started living at his property and lied about being his live-in carer for eight years.
- The woman had control of the man’s finances and the council should have started a safeguarding investigation at this point, particularly as the man’s family had previously raised concerns about her.
- There was a delay of almost three weeks from getting information of concern from the finance team before a mental capacity assessment was undertaken.
- When a mental capacity assessment was carried out it was not written up within 48 hours as required and a copy wasn’t passed to the named person or safeguarding team.
- There was also no record of the social worker’s contact with an organisation dealing with the financial affairs of people who no longer have mental capacity to make these decisions. Nor was a referral made.
The man’s nephew complained to the council, upset that his uncle had been left in a care home for 10 months without access to his own clothing, money or mail.
The social worker told the ombudsman she’d assumed the man’s friend was taking him clothes and personal items as indicated when they first met. The social worker said she did not have regular supervision meetings because her department was “stretched”.
The ombudsman said: “Had the social worker been subject to regular supervision sessions, some of these faults may not have occurred. It is a fault not to have appropriate management measures in place.”
Following the complaint, Essex council accepted its record-keeping was poor and the social worker’s performance was not at the expected level. It also accepted it had responsibility to safeguard the man from abuse.
The local authority offered to pay the nephew £250, reimburse the payments the man had made towards his care home charges between April and August 2012 and to reimburse the sums taken out of his bank account since December 2012.
The nephew was unhappy with this response and referred the case to the ombudsman. The ombudsman recommended that the council, in addition to its previous offer, should pay the man’s estate £4,285 – this would equal the unexplained regular withdrawals from the man’s bank account between November 2012 and February 2013.
The council should also apologise to the nephew for its errors and pay him £150 for the distress caused, the watchdog said.
A spokesperson for Essex County Council said: “We consider the safety and well-being of people in residential care to be an absolute priority. As such, since this incident operations have been comprehensively reviewed to safeguard against such an event happening again.
“The steps taken include reorganising teams, additional training and a full supervision audit. There has also been an increase in overall investment in the social work area, increasing the numbers of posts that exist in the workforce. Recruitment remains a challenge, but, adult operations are now better resourced than they were at the time of the complaint.”