Councils must make timely, thorough and informed assessments of people when deciding care needs, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has said.
The warning comes following an Ombudsman investigation into the way social workers from London Borough of Hounslow assessed a woman when her family applied for a deferred payment agreement (DPA) to pay for her care home fees.
Deferred payment agreements involve councils paying for a person’s care home fees up front, while agreeing to recoup the funds once a person’s property is sold.
Instead of carrying out a fresh assessment, the council relied heavily on a report of the woman’s needs which had been carried out some months previously.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council at fault for ‘copying and pasting’ certain sections of the previous report for the new report, and for the delay in dealing with the family’s complaints.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
“Councils can only make informed decisions about the level of support people need if they are based on the most up-to-date assessments of care.
“Care needs can change and fluctuate, even within the space of a few months, so it is not appropriate to make decisions on historic reports.
“I’m pleased Hounslow council have accepted my recommendations to remedy the case, and hope that by reminding staff of the importance of timely assessments this situation will not happen again.”
The woman’s family contacted the council for financial help when they decided she could no longer live independently. Although the woman had been living out of borough for some time, she still owned a house in Hounslow.
The council carried out an assessment but decided that she was no longer ‘ordinarily resident’ in the borough, as she had voluntarily moved out of the borough some years before. The council said she would need to apply for the deferred payment agreement to the council in whose borough she now lived.
Some months later the woman moved to a care home in Hounslow. The council completed an assessment of her needs, but argued it could meet those needs in the community with a suitable support package in place and so would not agree to a DPA.
This meant the woman’s family had to pay for her care. They then complained to the Ombudsman once their finances became strained.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found significant sections of the second assessment had been lifted from the earlier assessment, and had not considered the woman’s needs might have changed in the intervening period.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services.
In this case, the council has agreed to apologise to the family and pay £350 to the woman’s sister for her distress and time and trouble in trying to resolve the issue.
It will also remind relevant staff of the importance of carrying out independent assessments and recording them accurately.
Since the report was issued, the council has also agreed to reassess the woman and offer her a DPA from November 2016, and arrange the back payment of fees paid by the family for the woman’s care.