National Ombudsmen
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Multiple failures by Southwark Council over epileptic woman’s needs

There were multiple failures by Southwark Council over the care and housing needs of an epileptic mother of two, registered blind, finds Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin.

In her report, issued today, she concludes that the Council failed to put a care package in place for the family in a reasonable time, and that the effect on the woman was worsened by her recent loss of sight and the consequent difficulties she had trying to look after her family.

The Ombudsman welcomes the Council’s positive response to her findings and its agreement to her recommended remedy, which includes paying £13,100 compensation to the complainant.

The 30-year old woman who is registered blind and has severe epilepsy, and who has two young children, complained that the Council failed to properly assess her and her family’s needs for care services for two-and-a-half years. She says that, as a result, the Council failed to provide services for over a year and then provided inadequate care for a further 14 months.

She also complained that the Council failed to properly deal with her application for homeless assistance, that it made an inappropriate offer of a privately-rented flat and failed to consider her either for priority in its highest band or a direct offer of an adapted property. The complainant says that the Council’s Housing, Adults and Children’s Services Department failed to communicate and co-operate to make the process of rehousing her easier and more effective.

The Ombudsman found a number of failures by the Council:

  • it did not take adequate steps to assess the family and failed to consider whether the complainant’s helpers would continue providing free care, so the complainant had to pay a friend for her care out of her benefits
  • it introduced a night carer after the complainant suffered a serious night seizure, but it should have done so at an earlier stage.
  • it should have considered providing interim accommodation at an earlier stage and should have been more rigorous in its enquiries into the complainant’s employment status, and
  • its social workers did not correctly understand and apply its policies and procedures on co operation between its housing and social services functions.

The Ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and the Council has already implemented procedural improvements to address difficulties highlighted in this investigation. The Council has also agreed to:

  • apologise to the complainant for its failure to put in place care services between June 2008 and August 2009, its failure to put in place a night care service between August and October 2009 and its failure to deal properly with the investigation into her homelessness application
  • provide additional training to homelessness staff on taking homeless applications, conducting homeless enquiries and offering interim accommodation, ensuring that its duties under the Housing Act 1996 are adequately fulfilled
  • review its complaints policies and procedures, ensuring that it deals with complaints in a timely and appropriate manner
  • pay the complainant £10,600 for the additional expenses she incurred because services were not provided between 1 July 2008 and 11 August 2009 (calculated at £200 per week)
  • pay her a further £2,000 in recognition of the distress and anxiety caused by the failure to introduce a night carer or deal with the homeless application properly, and
  • pay her a further £500 in recognition of her time and trouble in pursuing these complaints.

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