National Ombudsmen
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Ribble Valley had no policy on supporting disabled people to use its services

A Lancashire authority was more than a decade late in setting out how it makes adjustments to its services for disabled people, an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

Following a complaint to the Ombudsman in April 2021, Ribble Valley Borough Council agreed to the Ombudsman’s recommendation to put a reasonable adjustments policy in place, in accordance with the Equality Act 2010. It agreed to do this by the end of July 2021, but despite the Ombudsman chasing no fewer than 16 times for evidence, it still could not show it had implemented the policy until May 2022.

The initial complaint was from a man with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who told the council he struggled being visited by men in authority. The man had been dealing with the council in relation to issues affecting his land. He asked the council either to send female officers or to let him know in advance if male officers were to visit so he could arrange support.

However, without warning, two male officers visited the man. When the man complained to the council, it said it was aware of his condition but had ‘simply forgotten about it’.

The council should have had a policy to check whether people have disabilities, show how they might accommodate any adjustments that might need to be made to enable people to access services and, importantly, keep a record of those adjustments.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council at fault. It asked the council to ensure it has effective policies in place to meet its obligations to disabled service users, to keep adequate records, and make its officers aware of the council’s obligations in relation to them.

The council’s policy was finally produced in April 2022, and made public on its website the following month. However the council could not provide the Ombudsman with evidence it now keeps adequate records or that officers were made aware of what is expected of them.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“At no time in the investigation process did the council tell us it was struggling to comply with our recommendation because of the pandemic, despite us checking whether this might be a factor. But it has now told us this was the reason for the delay.

“We recognise COVID-19 has been a challenge for local authorities, but they have had a duty to ensure reasonable adjustments are made for its service users since the Equality Act 2010 came in, so it was disappointing to see that as late as 2021 the council still had no policy in place. 

“The council’s lack of urgency is likely to have had significant consequences for some of its most vulnerable residents over many years.

“I now expect the council to provide us with evidence it has carried out the agreed remedy without delay.”

Last year, the Ombudsman made 1,848 service improvement recommendations across all the organisations it looks at, with all but a vanishingly small number of councils complying (99.7%). This council is one of the very few that failed to comply. The Ombudsman always checks for evidence that a council has complied with agreed recommendations, and will hold them to account when they have not.

The Ombudsman has issued guidance to councils on making reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities.

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