Failure to conduct mental capacity assessment left man at risk of financial abuse, ombudsman says

Mrs Y complained the council failed to take appropriate action to concerns she raised about her father’s ‘health, welfare and finances’

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A council’s failure to reassess a man’s ability to make decisions about his accounts left him at risk of “possible financial abuse”, a local government ombudsman report has found.

Darlington council’s inability to deal with safeguarding referrals made by Mr X’s daughter, Mrs Y, about her father’s financial situation left him at risk as his dementia continued to deteriorate.

The ombudsman found Mrs Y had been caused injustice as she was left to consider what may have happened if the council had “followed the process properly”.

Questions about capacity

In April 2015, Mr X was diagnosed with dementia. He was living in a council-owned flat when an occupational therapist assessed it was unsuitable for him to live in a first floor property. His daughter, Mrs Y, applied for her father to be rehoused.

Around the same time, Mr X’s friend, Mrs Z, withdrew a substantial amount of money from his bank account and moved it into hers.

Five months later, Mrs Y found Mr X’s bank account was empty and became aware that her father had substantial amounts of cash in his flat. She was concerned that Mr X was vulnerable and “open to abuse regarding his finances”, so raised a safeguarding alert with Darlington council.

A safeguarding social worker visited Mr X in August and completed a capacity assessment. They noted that Mr X did not have the capacity to address safeguarding concerns.

It was noted that Mr X was unsure about what banks he held accounts with and had “no awareness of bills” or debt without the help of others. Yet, he trusted Mrs Z to pay his bills and spend his money as he wanted.

Mrs Z met with a council officer in September, advising them she had opened an account in her name and transferred some of Mr X’s money into it. She stated she was looking after the money as Mr X did not trust Mrs Y.

The officer considered there was no evidence of financial abuse but advised the council should look into ways Mr X could take advantage of legal framework to protect his finances.

During a council held strategy meeting later that month, the team manager recorded Mr X was “confused about his finances” and decided it would be beneficial to allocate a social worker.

Safeguarding stops

A second assessment by a social worker, of Mr X’s care and support needs, said it found Mrs Z was a “a decent, honest woman” who would “never do anything inappropriate with his money”, after Mr X told them he wanted her to look after his money.

The team manager completed the safeguarding closure summary in January 2016, recording the outcome ‘not substantiated’. They stated Mr X was assessed by the safeguarding social worker to have capacity to understand who he wanted to manage his money and care for him.

However, a year later follow-up concerns about financial abuse were confirmed as a second safeguarding investigation found his daughter’s assurance that he could not manage his finances and he was suffering self-neglect proven.

Unfortunately, by the time the allegations were substantiated Mr X had passed away.

Findings

The ombudsman found fault with the allocated social worker who visited Mr X in September 2015. It said there was “no evidence” the social worker had completed any mental capacity assessments regarding Mr X’s ability to manage his finances or regarding his health, care and accommodation needs.

The social worker’s view that Mrs Z “would never do anything inappropriate with his money” was also found to be fault as it was based on “one meeting without any supporting evidence”.

The ombudsman also found fault in the council’s decision to close the safeguarding alert in January 2016, stating there was “no evidence” Mr X’s capacity to manage his finances had improved since August 2015.

It added there was no documented best interests decision to determine whether his money should be managed in some other way.

Remedy

Darlington council agreed to apologise to Mrs Y and pay her £500 to acknowledge the distress and uncertainty caused to her by the faults.

The ombudsman recommended the council should review the way it dealt with the safeguarding alerts and, in particular, should ensure that it carries out actions identified through safeguarding review meetings and records the outcome.

Finally, the council agreed to the ombudsman’s suggestion that it identifies any staff training requirements relating to mental capacity assessments and best interest decisions.

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