A local authority caused a young man to miss out on support in line with his preferences, the local government and social care ombudsman has found.
The watchdog upheld several complaints made on behalf of the man, ‘Mr E’, who has a learning disability, autism and dyslexia.
His mother, ‘Mrs D’, said Surrey council had failed to explain to her what Mr E’s direct payments could be spent on, despite repeated attempts by her to establish this. She also said the council had failed to review his needs as an adult.
The ombudsman ordered the local authority to pay Mrs D £250 and Mr E £750, and to issue him with a care and support plan.
Mr E had been in receipt of a direct payment from Surrey council’s children’s services, which became the responsibility of the adult social care transitions team upon him turning 18.
He had a personal budget of £180 and his support plan listed the council as agreeing to fund £80 personal training and a similar amount on help from a personal assistant around shopping, cooking and using public transport. The direct payment agreement also stipulated that Mr E returned unused money and repay any outgoings not in line with the agreement.
Between September 2014 and March 2015, Mrs D said she contacted the transitions team on numerous occasions to find out what she was allowed to spend the direct payment on. She was eventually told it could go on gym training, petrol expenses and football club subscriptions.
The ombudsman’s report noted that some of Mrs D’s calls appeared to have gone unrecorded by the council.
Driving lesson uncertainty
At a meeting with a duty worker in July 2015, Mrs D again sought clarity over the payments. It was suggested Mr E could use them for driving lessons – subject to a manager’s approval – and recorded that a new assessment and revised support plan may be necessary.
The situation dragged on for a further year with no review being carried out. During this time the council sporadically authorised payments being used for driving lessons, but also made a demand – which it then withdrew – that Mrs D pay back £1,000 which it said had gone on unauthorised spending.
While an assessment of need was completed in September 2016, a new support plan still failed to materialise – while thousands of pounds of unspent payments accumulated in Mr E’s account because of the resulting uncertainty of what they could be used for.
At various times over the next 12 months the council variously told Mrs D that direct payments could not “in any case” be used for driving lessons, and that it would fund some more in recognition of its poor communications.
At a meeting in October 2017, Mrs D was told by a social worker that she was still working on Mr E’s support plan.
The ombudsman’s investigation found Surrey council had in fact carried out review of Mr E’s care and support plan in 2014, 2015 and 2016 but had failed to communicated the outcomes to Mrs D.
“The failure to communicate the review outcome caused Mrs D avoidable uncertainty,” the ombudsman’s report said. “And it meant she did not use the direct payment fully because she was unsure what she could spend it on. I consider she received mixed messages.”
The watchdog also found evidence that Mrs D had been asking for advice on a regular basis regarding what payments could be spent on, but that this had not been explained, causing her distress and frustration.
It ordered Surrey council to make “all reasonable efforts” to agree a new support plan with Mr E, in line with the Care Act 2014.