A mother was left to provide her son’s care after Bromley council wrongly cut his support package, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.
Mr N, who has autism, and his mother, Ms M, had received care support from the council, which included one-to-one care, transport costs and a placement in a care centre.
However, it decided to cut the level of Mr N’s support at short notice and without reassessing his needs. This left Mr N and his mother without support during the holidays.
Mr N was in a residential college placement. His care package, arranged in 2013, was based on 14 weeks of holiday care during which he was supported at home. He also attended a day care facility.
When he was placed outside the council’s area, it agreed to provide Ms M with travel assistance, so she could pick up and take Mr N home for holidays. These needs were assessed as 28.5 hours of one to one support and three days each week of specialist day care.
It also made a small additional payment, so she could have insurance on her home to employ carers.
In October 2015, the council began paying for 25 hours of one to one support, rather than the agreed 28.5 hours. This was despite the fact that there had been no reassessment of Mr N’s needs since the original care package was agreed.
Ms M said the council failed to warn her about the reduction and were unable to give her an explanation when she enquired about the change. This left Ms M having to provide the rest of the one to one care herself.
During the same period, the day care centre that Mr N attended closed and no alternative support was identified. Bromley council failed to pay Mr N the equivalent of this care, meaning Ms M could not source provision that was broadly similar.
Again, this left his mother to provide support.
Between July 2014 and December 2015, the council stopped payments to the family, stating Ms M had not provided invoices. Yet, Ms M said she was never asked for invoices before this happened.
Despite stopping payment for 17 months, the council accepted that backdated payments should be made from 23 October 2015. Once it accepted this, it made a payment to Ms M but placed the money in a ‘holding account’ so Ms M could not use it at the time.
This meant there was no money available to support the man during the 2016 Easter holidays. The council said this was done in error.
Moreover, when the council did pay the family for the care, the money they received was not paid in consistent amounts, or at fixed times.
Trouble and distress
Although the council says the hours were reduced with Ms M’s agreement, the ombudsman said that “changes in care should be based on needs” and Mr N’s needs were not assessed at this time.
The ombudsman added that Bromley council had not “provided any evidence to justify the reduction” in payments for 28.5 hours of one to one support and said failure to provide this support was fault.
The council should have carried out a review a year after July 2013 to establish whether Mr N’s needs had changed.
It added that Ms M had been caused “trouble and distress” in providing additional care to Mr N and trying to resolve the matter with the council.
In regard to the delayed payments, the ombudsman accepted this was “an administrative error”, but said the council should review its use of holding accounts, so money is swiftly accessible once it is sent.
Resolution and review
Bromley council agreed to apologise and pay the family £2,865 to reflect the time, trouble and distress it caused.
It will ensure care and support is reviewed at least on an annual basis and will ensure that money paid periodically for a fixed period is paid at specific times and in specific amounts. The local authority also agreed to review its use of ‘holding accounts’ so emergency money sent to individuals is immediately accessible.
A council spokesperson said: “We acknowledge there was an administrative error in this case and apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
“We are currently reviewing the whole area of care charges and the information supplied to service users and their families.”
“In addition, there have been significant improvements to the complaints handling process, including a major upgrade to the bespoke IT system used, which means the council is confident that such a situation is highly unlikely to recur.”
‘The right support’
“Families with significant care needs like this rely on the right support being provided in the right way, and at the right time. Councils cannot change care packages at short notice and without making the proper assessments,” the ombudsman, Michael King, said.
“I am pleased Bromley council has agreed to my recommendations to improve its services and welcome the changes it will now put in place.”