Councils should ensure that their care provision is determined by an individual assessment of needs despite financial pressures, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has ruled.
The LGO’s recommendation came in response to an investigation into Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council’s attempts to make blanket reductions to the support it gave to vulnerable people without first assessing their needs.
Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council decided to cut the hours it offered for respite care in order to make budgetary savings, and applied a blanket restriction of four weeks’ per annum respite regardless of the individual needs of carers in its area.
The LGO was contacted by a couple who care for their sister with learning disabilities and dementia. They complained their respite care allowance had been halved by the council from eight weeks a year to just four, without social workers first conducting a needs assessment.
The couple were told by social workers that the decision affected all users and after complaining to the council, they contacted the Ombudsman.
The LGO wrote to the council asking for information about the case. Instead of providing the information requested, the council acknowledged it had reduced the respite in error and offered to settle the complaint, reinstating the couple’s respite to eight weeks a year and also awarding any respite owed.
Further clarification was sought, and the council accepted it had reduced respite care without carrying out a full needs assessment and recognised the instruction given to social work teams had been too rigidly applied and without proper regard to people’s individual needs and circumstances. The LGO’s investigation identified others may have been affected by the application of the policy.
Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said: “Councils have a duty to assess people’s care needs and provide services at a level appropriate to those needs regardless of the limited budgets they may have.