Council assessment, care planning and safeguarding failings rose last year, says ombudsman

Complaints upheld by ombudsman regarding assessment and care planning rose 13% as watchdog identified failings in relation to council Care Act compliance when cutting care packages

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

Identified council adult social care failings on assessment, care planning and safeguarding all rose last year, the local government watchdog has said in his annual report on the sector.

The number of assessment and care planning complaints upheld by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman rose by 13%, from 215 to 243, between 2018-19 and 2019-20. This follows an 11% rise the previous year.

Upheld complaints relating to safeguarding also rose last year, from 47 in 2018-19 to 52 in 2019-20, but this is below the 70 upheld in 2017-18.

The watchdog’s annual report on adult social care showed councils also received more complaints from individuals and families in both practice areas. However, it investigated a similar number in both years, once complaints that were outside its remit, that there were not good reasons to investigate or that had been referred back for local resolution had been removed.

Complaint trends

Assessment and care planning:

  • 2018-19: 713 complaints received; 361 investigated; 215 upheld after investigation (60% of investigated complaints upheld)
  • 2019-20: 770 complaints received; 360 investigated; 243 upheld after investigation (68% uphold rate)

Safeguarding:

  • 2018-19: 228 complaints received; 74 investigated; 47 upheld after investigation (64% uphold rate)
  • 2019-20: 273 complaints received; 74 investigated; 52 upheld after investigation (70% uphold rate)

The ombudsman investigates complaints against local authorities that cannot be resolved locally, and makes judgments about whether the council is at fault – including in relation to compliance with the law, statutory guidance or procedures – and whether this has led to injustice to individuals.

Assessment and care planning failings

Reports made by the ombudsman during 2019-20 identified significant issues with assessment and care planning, many relating to non-compliance with the Care Act in cases where care packages were reduced. These included:

  • Failings by Somerset Council when it decided to reduce a disabled woman’s direct payment and remove carer’s support from her husband, including not assessing her needs on her move to the county and then carrying out an inadequate assessment that did not identify her eligible needs.
  • A “financially motivated” decision by Nottinghamshire council to cut an autistic man’s longstanding personal budget by a third without identifying whether a cheaper way of meeting his needs could be found.
  • Havering council setting an arbitrary upper limit for a woman’s live-in care that did not cover the cost of meeting need.
  • Walsall council’s failure to follow the Care Act when it reduced a man’s personal budget without involving him in the assessment or producing a care and support plan.

The ombudsman stopped invesitgations into councils and care providers in March to protect their capacity to respond to the pandemic, but resumed existing investigations and taking new complaints in late June.

Responding to the report, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services president James Bullion said: “This report…underlines just how much strain social care is under at the present time.  These pressures have clearly been exacerbated by Covid-19.  We are concerned that some people with care and support needs will not have come forward during the pandemic, because they can’t or because they can see how difficult it is for everyone else.”

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