Unlawful decisions involving care homes are coming to light as local authorities face budget and resource pressures, concludes a new report on the activities of local authorities.
The report from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Under Pressure, says councils must not “throw out the rule book” when redesigning services. From nearly 40 case studies the Ombudsman identifies systemic problems stemming from councils changing the way they provided services.
Among the examples of unlawful decisions involving care homes is one council which thought it could avoid the cost associated with free entitlement to intermediate care and reablement for six weeks, by using a subtly different approach and describing the service as ‘enablement’. But, the ombudsman says: “Just referring to intermediate care by another name does not allow the council to charge for it.”
The report also slams councils for putting finances ahead of people’s care needs. In one example, a council placed a woman with dementia in a care home, rather than implementing a spot-contract with a home care provider and saving the woman’s husband a 30-mile round-trip.
Ombudsman Michael King said: “The way councils have adapted and innovated in the face of huge challenges is to be admired. But the lesson from this report is for councils to get the basics right and not throw out the rule book when working under pressure.
“Some of the pitfalls to avoid when redesigning services include ensuring changed services continue to meet statutory levels and timescales, or making sure discretionary powers are not replaced by a one-size fits all approach.”
The Ombudsman’s report finds four common themes for councils to look out for, where ineffective planning for change can lead to service failure for local people:
- Accommodating longer backlogs
- Reviewing eligibility criteria
- Using new partnerships and delivery arrangements
- Restructuring and redesigning services.
Alongside the report, the Ombudsman has revised its Principles of Good Administrative Practice document.