Council told to pay autistic man £47k compensation for stress caused by delayed care assessment

Ombudsman investigation finds vulnerable man was put at increased risk of harm by council failings, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Hendon Town Hall

An autistic man was put at increased risk of harm and suffered stress and anxiety after Barnet Council delayed assessing his care needs, a watchdog has found.

The council has been told to pay the man more than £47,000 in backdated payments for care support and £600 in recognition of the “risk of harm, undue stress, anxiety, time and trouble” it caused him.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, which investigates complaints against councils, found the man – who has high-functioning autism and a gastrointestinal condition – had to wait “well over two years” for the support he needed.

After he fell ill before he was diagnosed with autism, the man – given the name ‘Mr X’ in the report – arranged private care support in January 2020.

He called the council the following month and asked it to assess him under the Care Act to determine his support needs, adding that he was paying for private care and on a long hospital waiting list. But he was instead directed to a mental health service because he was due a mental health assessment, and the council closed the case.

During the following months, the council was contacted by his care agency, his GP and his local MP – who referred him to the local authority with concerns about his self-harm and threats of suicide – but each time his case was passed on to the mental health team.

The council eventually referred the man to Network – an enablement service run by the council and the local mental health trust – which offered him a Care Act needs assessment in August 2021.

But the council did not properly communicate the outcome of the assessment to Mr X or complete a financial assessment, so he continued to pay for private support and did not know whether the authority should have been providing financial help.

The ombudsman said the council had agreed to apologise for this and offer a remedy for the distress it caused.

In late January 2022, Mr X told Network that he had received confirmation of an autism diagnosis and asked for an occupational therapy assessment.

Around a week later, he told a community engagement worker he felt unsupported, had difficulty with household tasks and often did not have proper meals. He was also waiting for an assessment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

After he reported risky behaviours because of his frustration and said he could not afford the privately-arranged care as he no longer worked, support staff agreed to a new care assessment.

In May 2022, after he complained to the council, he was finally given a two-hour assessment meeting. But the council then asked him to have a second meeting later in the month, where social workers recommended therapies he said he had already tried.

In mid-June, it was agreed the council would fund 18 additional hours of support from the private care provider, and the authority completed the financial assessment the following month.

The ombudsman found the delays caused “significant and undue stress and anxiety, time and trouble”, and increased the risk of harm.

Although Mr X was able to pay for private care for some of that time, the ombudsman said the council should have contributed towards it and told the authority to provide backdated payments from February 2020 to May 2022.

The ombudsman also found that the problems went on for “too long” because of the council’s “failure to recognise its fault when Mr X complained”, which added to the “undue stress and anxiety” he suffered.

In addition to the compensation, the council has been told to apologise to Mr X and make a series of improvements, including “an ongoing programme of training in autism”. It comes after two of the staff involved in the case had not completed autism awareness training.

The ombudsman said the council had agreed to the actions it recommended.

A Barnet Council spokesperson said: “We have reviewed and accepted the ombudsman’s findings and recommendations to remedy the issues raised. On this occasion, we fell below the service standards we expect and immediately acted on the ombudsman’s recommendations to remedy the issues for the resident and to prevent recurrence.

“Where recommendations haven’t already been fully actioned, we are working towards ensuring they are implemented in line with the timescales agreed with the ombudsman. We care about every resident’s experience when engaging with the council and the feedback they offer to develop and improve our services.”

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