Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Ombudsman criticises council for failing to provide respite care for disabled teenager

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has criticised Croydon council after an investigation found that a mother of a disabled teenager had insufficient or no respite for three years.

Croydon council said it would “cost too much” to provide respite care, since the teenager, who can display a range of increasingly challenging behaviours, needs skilled carers who understand how to meet his specific needs.

Teenager would most likely need two-to-one care

The teenager is autistic, has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and is largely non-verbal. His school offered weekly overnight respite care until December 2019.

When this care was stopped, the teenager’s mother found another provider that could offer the support her son needed. But the council would not agree, saying it cost too much.

The teenager’s mother then complained to the council and asked the Ombudsman to investigate. Michael King, who investigated the case, criticised the way the council handled the mother’s complaint and made various recommendations to the local authority.

Councils cannot restrict support based purely on cost

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said the council cannot restrict support “based purely on cost” and recommended that the council apologised to the teenager’s mother and pay her £4,000 for the loss of service, distress and time and trouble she was put to.

Croydon council will also provide the mother with direct payments for respite care, at the same level as was provided before October 2019 and until this is no longer needed.

The council will also make improvements to its complaints handling processes and should brief staff to make clear it cannot seek to refuse or limit care choices based on cost, or through comparison with national or local averages.

Council has agreed to all recommendations made by Ombudsman

Mr King said: “In this case, a mother had no respite from solely caring for her teenage son because the council could not agree how much it would pay, despite a professional assessment deeming he most likely needed two-to-one care.

“I’m also concerned with the way the council handled the mother’s complaint. Councils can seek to get a better understanding and resolve a complaint early, but this should happen alongside the statutory process rather than replace it. Councils still need to follow the proper process and meet the timescales set out.

“I am pleased the council has finally agreed to all the recommendations I have made to remedy the situation for the family and ensure it learns from the things that have gone wrong.”

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