Inadequate information led father to care for son without support for 20 weeks, ombudsman finds

North Somerset council failed to inform service user's father about support he could have received as a carer for his son, investigation concludes

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A father “struggled” to care for his son without support for 20 weeks after a council failed to provide him with adequate information about carer’s assessments, the local government and social care ombudsman has found.

An investigation by the watchdog found the father, ‘Mr X’, was left unable to make an informed choice about what support he could receive from North Somerset council after he became a carer for his son, ‘Mr Y’, who has learning difficulties.

This led him to care for his son for an extended period, exacerbated by a month of “inactivity” on the council’s part, causing him “physical and emotional strain”.

The ombudsman blamed a lack of record-keeping for North Somerset’s inability to evidence whether it had offered Mr X a carer’s assessment – something he said had been mentioned but not followed up.

The council also failed to explain that Mr Y would need to contribute to the cost of attending a day care centre after moving in with Mr X, leaving him with an unexpected bill, the investigation found.

‘Nowhere else to go’

In June 2016, Mr Y went to live with his father after the placement he was living in broke down. All parties expected this would be a short-term arrangement – but Mr Y ended up staying with his father for 21 weeks, only moving into a new placement on 31 October.

The ombudsman’s report said Mr X felt he had to offer accommodation to his son because he “had nowhere else to go”. Mr X claimed he had not received support from the council and had not pursued a carer’s assessment because he was told any support would be means-tested.

He therefore assumed he would not qualify, leading to Mr X caring for his son without support, which he said had a significant impact on his “emotional and physical health”.

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Council records relating to the case revealed Mr Y’s social worker had concerns about the impact on Mr X of caring for his son, stating he had some health issues and had recently lost his wife.

But no direct payments to obtain support for his caring role were offered to Mr X, with the council arguing that this would have taken time to set up and caused him extra burden.

Day care costs

Prior to his previous placement breaking down, Mr Y had been attending a day care centre every weekday – and this continued when he went to live with Mr X.

In the past, Mr Y had not been asked to contribute to the cost of the day centre provision. But North Somerset council told him he would have to contribute £78.18 per week towards it while living with his father, and issued an invoice of £1,485.42 on 30 November 2016.

Mr X disputed the council’s invoice, saying he had not been told Mr Y would need to contribute towards costs and was not expecting a bill.

He also believed the council should have carried out a full financial assessment when Mr Y’s living arrangements changed.

‘Adverse health impact’

North Somerset told the ombudsman it had offered to carry out a carer’s assessment for Mr X, and that the social worker’s recollection was that Mr X refused. But there was no record of any such decision being made.

The ombudsman’s investigation concluded North Somerset failed to give Mr X adequate information about carer’s assessments, preventing him from making an informed choice about whether he required support from the council to care for his son.

Mr X therefore “struggled to care for his son for 20 weeks without support”, a period during which he “bore all the costs” associated with caring for Mr Y.

“Mr X became a full-time carer for his son, which took over his life for that period and probably had an adverse impact on his health,” the ombudsman concluded. “This meant Mr X was less able to cope with the circumstances caused by the council’s failure to offer and provide him with support.”

‘Inactivity caused injustice’

The ombudsman’s report acknowledged that North Somerset was entitled to ask Mr Y for a contribution towards the cost of his care. But it added that the local authority should have carried out a financial assessment to determine the appropriate amount after Mr Y moved in with his father.

The watchdog found North Somerset had not carried out any such assessment of Mr Y since January 2014, meaning Mr X “could not be sure the amount his son had to pay was correct”.

Council records showed North Somerset was mostly proactive in finding an alternative home for Mr Y, and informed Mr X on 12 August that a possible placement had been identified. But the ombudsman said there was “no record” of the council taking any steps to find a new placement for Mr Y during July 2016 when there was a change of social worker.

Having known about the pressure on Mr X, the ombudsman said this “period of inactivity” had probably delayed the finding of an alternative placement and caused injustice to Mr X as he had to care for his son for longer.

Agreed action

North Somerset council agreed, within a month of the ombudsman’s final decision, to apologise to Mr X for its failure to provide him with information about Mr Y’s contribution to the cost of day care centre, and to offer support while Mr Y lived with him.

The local authority also agreed to pay Mr X £1,000 for the avoidable distress caused to Mr X by its failure to consider what support he might need while caring for his son.

Within three months of the decision, North Somerset council said it would carry out a financial assessment for Mr Y for the period he lived with Mr X and would issue a revised invoice if it was incorrect.

The council also agreed to review its processes to ensure that financial assessments are reviewed when financial circumstances change and, in any event, annually in accordance with the Care Act 2014.

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