A woman was caused “significant stress” by a three-year wait for her son’s return home due to an “unreasonable and avoidable delay” caused by council failings.
That was the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s verdict on Sheffield council’s handling of the request by the woman, Mrs A, for her son, Mr Y, to return home from a full-time residential college placement in June 2016, when he was 20.
However, it was not until February 2017 that a best interests meeting was held to consider the request, at which it was agreed that Mr Y, who is autistic, has learning disabilities and certain medical conditions, should return home.
And, while his move was initially planned for April of that year, he did not return home until July 2019. And it was not until September 2019 that support plans were completed setting out how the needs of Mr Y and his sister Ms Z, who has similar impairments and was already at home, would be met.
While no such timescales are set in law, the ombudsman concluded that it would have been reasonable for the best interests meeting to take place within a month of the request, and for support plans to have been agreed within six months of that meeting.
This was because of a need to carry out an assessment of both Mr Y and Ms Z, considering how their needs interacted, identifying what changes to the home environment were necessary and approaching potential providers.
‘Unreasonable and avoidable delay’
The ombudsman said: “Therefore, there was an unreasonable and avoidable delay of approximately 25 months after the best interest meeting.
“This, combined with the delay before the best interest meeting, means there was a total avoidable delay of over 31 months.
“This is an extensive delay and is fault. While the funding for Mr Y’s and Ms Z’s support was joint [with the local clinical commissioning group] it is evident the council had the lead for completing the assessments. As such, the council was responsible for the fault.”
He added: “As a result of this fault Mr Y did not return home until three years after Mrs A made the request. This is in spite of early notes about how upsetting it would be for Mr Y not to return home, and in spite of the agreement that it would be the right thing for him. This situation, in turn, caused Mrs A a significant amount of stress and frustration along with time and trouble.”
£1,000 for ‘prolonged injustice’
The ombudsman said the council should pay Mrs A £1,000 “to serve as a tangible, symbolic recognition of the injustice she suffered, and the prolonged nature of it”, and write to her to acknowledge and apologise for its failings and the impact on her.
He also urged the authority to thoroughly review the case, including actions by practitioners and managers, to identify reasons for the delay and whether these were systemic or specific to the case. It should also formulate an action plan to respond to the review’s findings.
Following the best interests meeting in February 2017, the council completed a review of Mr Y’s needs in March, which envisaged his family providing most support to both siblings, but with help from personal assistants (PAs).
In April 2017, the council allocated an occupational therapist to assess the need to adapt the family home, with the assessment completed by August 2017, concluding there was a need for an additional bathroom and a garden room to meet the siblings’ needs. At the same time, a social worker spoke to possible providers of PAs.
Delayed council responses
However, by April 2018, no decision had been taken about how much support Mr Y and Ms Z would need to live together at home.
At that point, a social worker asked Mrs A to provide a visual timetable of activities and support her children needed. While she provided this, and responded to other requests for further information, promptly, there were repeated delays in the council’s responses to her.
The ombudsman found: “From the best interest meeting in February 2017 there is very little detail in the notes to show what proactive steps council staff were taking to assess Mr Y’s or Ms Z’s needs. There is little evidence of requests for documents from the college or other professionals. Further, there is very little to show that the council were hampered by obstacles and delays which were outside of its own control.”
Alexis Chappell, the council’s director for adult health and social care, said: “We are very sorry for the mistakes made in this case. We have apologised to the family and accept that there was avoidable delay.
“We have since made improvements to the area of transitions from children’s to adult services and are committed to continuous improvement.”