Councils cannot cap personal budgets under Care Act, Ombudsman warns

The Ombudsman has issued the advice after an investigation found Wiltshire Council had a policy of placing people into bands, and paying in line with those banding levels, regardless of need. This is contrary to the Care Act.

The Ombudsman became aware of the council’s system after a woman, whose adult son had substantial and complex health problems and disabilities, had her support cut significantly.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council at fault for using an outdated matrix tool to calculate the amount of support offered to the family, and for reducing the support offered immediately, rather than as a staged reduction as the matrix tool said it should. It was also at fault for the way in which it reduced their funding for transport.

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

“Councils cannot put a cap on people’s budgets: the Care Act says eligible needs must be met, regardless of the cost.

“The reduction in support, and the haste by which those changes were introduced, has had a significant impact on the mother.

“Having to care for both her husband and her son has left this woman exhausted. She said she has been treated by her doctor and reported being frequently distressed, tearful and unsettled by the changes.

“I am pleased the council has accepted the formula it used to calculate people’s budgets was not in accordance with current guidance and has now agreed to stop using it.”

The mother, who is also a carer for her husband, complained to the Ombudsman that her support had been cut when she moved home, despite having reassurances from social workers that her support would remain the same.

Her son, who has severe learning disabilities and epilepsy, lives at home with his parents. He uses a day care centre every week day, and had been receiving respite care 104 nights a year.

The council carried out a fresh assessment of the son’s care needs after the family moved home. Despite the son’s care needs remaining unchanged, the new assessment reduced his number of respite nights to 68 a year. The council said this reduction would be introduced gradually, but instead it was done immediately.

The assessment also reduced the son’s transport funding, which left the council asking the mother to drive the son to daycare twice a week. The mother said she could not do this, but again these transport changes were introduced immediately.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services.

In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the mother and restore the previous level of respite care, pending a re-assessment compliant with the Care Act 2014. It has also confirmed it will offer her 24 days respite care in recognition of that which was wrongly withdrawn.

The council has also agreed to repay the mother the £747.50 she paid the council for transport, and pay a further £500 in recognition of her distress and time and trouble.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve a council’s processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to review its policy and procedure on respite care to ensure it is compliant with the Care Act 2014.

It has also agreed to review files for evidence of use of the outdated matrix tool, and anyone whose transport was cut. It will write promptly to anyone similarly affected by the issues in this report and review their cases.