Council pays out £60,000 to woman caused ‘avoidable distress’ from failure to meet needs for five years

Ombudsman finds Bradford's failure to support woman with autism and mental health problems, despite agreeing plan to do so, exacerbated her needs

Image of laptop and magnifying glass (credit: Paweł Michałowski / Adobe Stock)
(credit: Paweł Michałowski / Adobe Stock)

A council has agreed to pay a woman £60,000 for the “avoidable distress” she was caused from its five-year failure to provide her with the support it assessed her as needing.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found that Bradford council had determined Ms G, who has autism, severe anxiety disorder and other mental health problems, had eligible needs that should be met by direct payments following an assessment in 2014.

However, it failed to provide the agreed support over the next five years, resulting in her experiencing “significant difficulty and avoidable distress”.

The watchdog’s report said: “Ms G has been without the formal support agreed by the council for over five years. It is difficult to quantify the adverse impact the lack of formal support has had on her wellbeing and independence.

“However, it is apparent from the evidence available and from the contact with Ms G that she has substantial difficulty navigating processes, managing her daily living skills, communicating with agencies, accessing public and utility services and travelling around safely.

“It is likely this has been made worse because of a lack of formal support. Fault by the council is likely to have caused Ms G significant injustice because of the severity of adverse impact on her wellbeing.”

£60,000 payout

The ombudsman also found that the council had not provided evidence on how it made reasonable adjustments in how it communicated with Ms G, as required by the Equality Act 2010, or how it had considered her need for independent advocacy under the Care Act through the support planning process.

The watchdog recommended that the council:

  • Pay Ms G £60,000 – equivalent to £1,000 for each of the 60 months she had gone without support – “to acknowledge the substantial adverse impact on her wellbeing caused by the failure to provide her with the support the council assessed she needed and the associated distress and severe anxiety she experienced”.
  • Discuss the impact of the payment on her entitlement to benefits and, if necessary, pay for her to receive independent financial advice.
  • Have a senior officer write to her to apologise for the adverse impact of its failures on her wellbeing and independence.

Bradford has accepted all of the recommendations.

Bev Maybury, the council’s strategic director for health and wellbeing services, said: “We fully accept the ombudsman’s decision in this case. We recognise that, on this particular occasion, we fell short of the standards we set ourselves and we apologise for this and the distress it has caused Ms G. We have made sure we have addressed all of the recommendations made by the ombudsman to prevent anyone else experiencing similar issues.”

2014 assessment

Ms G’s March 2014 assessment was carried out on the council’s behalf by a consultant psychiatrist, Dr J, who was her care co-ordinator in the local mental health service. This was on the grounds that having anyone else assess her would result in delays as she would have form a relationship with them.

In June of that year, a council panel determined her needs should be met by direct payments and, a council service manager agreed that Dr J should complete the support plan with her, which happened in the same month. This included support with organising tasks such as cooking and cleaning and to access mainstream services, to help with Ms G’s high levels of anxiety.

There followed a series of correspondence and meetings, in which the service manager firstly said the support plan was too expensive (October 2014), and then, in June 2015, confirmed in an email she was eligible for support, would need a specialist support worker and offered respite from a family or Shared Lives carer.

In July 2015, the service manager responded to a letter from Ms G’s MP saying a council resource allocation panel had rejected the support plan drawn up by Dr J, but agreed to set up a new plan, starting with the recruitment of a specialist support worker to develop a trusting relationship with her.

However, despite Dr J repeatedly warning that the delay in arranging support was having an adverse effect on Ms G’s mental health, the council still did put it into place. This continued into 2016, in January of which the service manager agreed to sign off a direct payment to pay for the repeatedly promised support worker.

This did not happen and Ms G lodged a formal complaint. In November 2016, before the complaint investigation concluded, an assistant director wrote to Ms G apologising for the lack of support and agreeing to some elements of the original support plan including specified hours for helping with organising daily living tasks, accessing mainstream services, a professional mentor and respite.

But again, this did not happen, and in January 2017, Ms G wrote to the council chief executive saying that the authority had failed to provide her with support, and that, she had asked for an emergency payment to support her participation in a financial assessment but had not received a response.

‘Loss of functioning’

“As a result, she said she had experienced loss of functioning in other areas of her life while she recovered from the ongoing psychological and physiological impact of the stress on her autism and mental health illness, the ombudsman said.

The council said that it wrote to Ms G in June 2017 to offer to meet with Ms G to discuss the outcome of its complaint investigation, which found fault with the council and said it should apologise, restart the assessment and care planning process and determine whether it should compensate her for the delay in providing support.

Though it said it did not receive a response to its offer, the ombudsman found that it had not sent Ms G or her representative a copy of the complaint, and it took no further action after that point.

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