Hammersmith & Fulham Council Left Disabled Woman Without a Carer

Watchdog orders that compensation be paid for service failure

Hammersmith & Fulham Council offices on King Street. Picture: Google Streetview

July 3, 2023

Hammersmith & Fulham Council been ordered to pay £900 to two sisters after it left a disabled woman without a carer. The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said the borough also struggled to find Ms Y a carer for a period from December 2021 and failed to provide her with money to hire a personal assistant, a report has revealed.

The woman’s sister, known as Ms X, complained about the standard of care her sibling was receiving in December 2021. Weeks later, Ms Y’s carer quit, leaving the woman, who had learning difficulties and a visual impairment, without proper support.

The care provider stopped working with Ms Y when she went on holiday in December 2021. They reported abuse towards its staff from both Ms Y and Ms X – a claim Ms X denied, according to Friday’s (30 June) ombudsman findings.

Ms Y would later refuse to accept a new provider and was told there would be a discussion between her advocate, herself and the council to arrange for a personal assistant using direct payments. This was because Ms Y’s sister could not be a carer due to her own health issues.

The council found Ms Y an interim carer who would spend nine hours with her over three days but Ms X said her previous care package included twice-daily visits, cleaning and companion calls. The carer did not turn up in February, leaving Ms Y in a panic.

Ms Y was finally given appropriate care sometime after 15 February but three months later, her sister complained to the council claiming the carer ran late, did not check the fridge for food, nor clean the flat or help Ms Y cook meals, as required by the care plan.

Ms X complained again in June, July and November 2022. The care provider investigated and responded to the issues raised.

She also claimed her sister had been left without care when workers came to carry out repairs on Ms Y’s kitchen in December 2021.

She claimed the lack of alternative care arrangements meant she had to be present throughout the day the works were carried out to supervise her sister.

She also claimed the works were not carried out properly which left exposed sharp edges along with other issues that raised concerns for someone with a visual impairment.

Ms X says that she had to step in and carry out cleaning and other actions to make the kitchen usable for Ms Y. She said she had to attend the property four times to deal with issues and provide reassurance in respect of the works.

The provider said it had arranged care for those days and that its staff were not responsible for managing the works. The council said it would discuss contingency planning at a future team meeting to ensure Ms Y was not left without proper care again. Ms X claims she never received those plans in writing.

Reaching its decision, the watchdog said Hammersmith and Fulham Council did not do anything to help Ms Y pay for a carer since their initial meeting in January 2022.

In its analysis, the ombudsman said it could not investigate actions relating to the repair but that information it came across showed social care had been planned on the days of the works.

It said problems arose on the day meaning the works were not properly done and nor was the flat adequately cleaned. It found no fault with the council in its attempts to arrange social care in this instance.

The council accepted there were issues with the competency of the carer who attended to assist, and apologised. It also said it could not provide contingency plans on something that had not happened yet and gave the workers Ms Y’s social work team and urged they be contacted.

The ombudsman wrote, “While I understand Ms X was dissatisfied with what happened in this case, I am not persuaded the Council’s stated position on contingency planning amounts to fault.

“It would have been helpful if the Council could have been clearer with Ms X about the situation and what it was able to do in respect of providing support for planned repair works.”

The ombudsman said it could not investigate complaints that Ms X had to step up to help her sister despite having her own health issues because she had not lodged a formal complaint.

The watchdog added, “The information provided shows that a carer working with Ms Y resigned her post in December 2021 and the care provider then withdrew totally. The Council clearly made efforts to find another care provider but struggled to get cover for the whole care package.

“I am aware that there were a number of care providers who had previously worked with Ms Y and the care had ended due to Ms Y’s behaviour. This means there were a limited number of options available to the Council and there was a lack of capacity within the available care providers.

“While I appreciate the challenges facing the Council, it has a duty to meet Ms Y’s assessed eligible needs. It’s failure to do this, despite its best efforts, is service failure.”

The Council said it now has comprehensive assessments around supporting Ms Y’s emotional and sensory needs which are shared with service providers. This information was shared with the care provider who began working with Ms Y in May 2022.

Regarding direct payments, the ombudsman said: “While some steps were taken to explain direct payments to Ms Y, the information provided shows that the process was allowed to drift. The Council accepts there have been significant delays in arranging direct payments. This is fault.”

The watchdog said the council had taken action to establish direct payments and that a recruitment process was under way to find Ms Y a personal assistant.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council was ordered to apologise to the sisters and pay Ms Y £600 for the distress caused by the failure to provide carers and delays in arranging direct payments. Ms X received £300 for the distress caused when she had to provide care for her sister.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council was approached for comment but did not respond by the time of publishing.

Adrian Zorzut - Local Democracy Reporter