Local authority failed to explain what direct payments could be used for, ombudsman finds

Surrey council's actions meant young man 'missed opportunity for support reflecting his preferences' as money sat unspent

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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.

Payments transfer

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.

‘Mixed messages’

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.

5 Responses to Local authority failed to explain what direct payments could be used for, ombudsman finds

  1. Christina August 30, 2018 at 4:11 pm #

    We have been fighting a council for 3 yrs for myself and my husband who is severely disabled had 3 assessments told cannot use direct payments to prepare meals, laundry, chores, shopping communication, in fact everything. Would not tell us what we could use direct payments on and was told to use our own money when we don’t have any! Cannot get any help, support, except solicitor said social services are wrong but she needs paying to take case on and we cant afford a solicitor nor get legal aid! Disabled people are not supposed to exist in life anymore

    • Happy to help September 3, 2018 at 7:45 am #

      Not everything has to go to court etc to be resolved that is illegal. If you really want to persue a legal method, try contacting CASCAIDr

      There are 2 issues here. But without more information it’s hard to judge.

      1. You should be able to use a DP as an alternative to care. Therefore, if the council are providing carers to meet these eligible needs/ outcomes, you can have a DP. If they have suggested another way to meet your needs, then a DP may not be offered. However, a Council can not fetter it’s discretion saying they don’t provide cleaning, carers to prepare food etc. There was an ombudsman report about this not that long ago that this.

      2. If you are the main carer for your husband, you should be asking for a separate carers assessment. It doesn’t sound to me like you are ‘willing to continue’ with all aspects of care you’re providing. If the council say that it’s because you would need to do this for yourself anyway, they need to consider that’s you don’t need to do it for your husband, so you should be clear that if they don’t do it, his needs will be unmet and they would need to provide support.

      Have you been through the councils complaints process? If this is not successful, you can still take your complaint to the ombudsman who I’m sure would resolve this dispute. I’d ask for a copy of the councils Direct Payment policy too as evidence.

    • Belinda Schwehr September 19, 2018 at 4:13 pm #

      You can try us Christina – http://www.CASCAIDr.org.uk

      We triage cases for free, and only charge for matters outside of our free scope.

      Crystal clear illegalities we do for free, up to the point where a letter to the Monitoring Officer – the council’s chief of Governance, would you believe, does not work.

      Then we help you crowdfund if the case is strong enough, by which time you will find that solicitors are suddenly magically interested, meaning that you can then get legal aid or at the very least, most of the work has already been done.

      CASCAIDr has had enough of councils disregarding the Care Act!

  2. You know! August 30, 2018 at 8:33 pm #

    Sloppy processes.

    This report supports the argument that a care and support plan should stipulate the parameters of what has been agreed that the direct payment can be used for.

    Some would argue that this removes flexibility, however in times of such financial hardship, i’m surprised that councils are still allowing discretion for non eligible needs and for things that are not alternatives to care, ie driving lessons, football and gym memberships. There is a need to support people with the ‘opportunity to access’ these things, not provide the means to pay for them.

    I have a feeling that this complaint will have a detrimental affect on everyone else using direct payments in Surrey.

  3. Who knows September 1, 2018 at 8:05 pm #

    I wonder what the knock on consequences will be of this decision? My bet is that the council will tighten up on what direct payments can be spent on.