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Council’s personal budget capping wrong - Ombudsman

13 January 2020

A council wrongly reduced a disabled man’s personal budget by capping respite payments at the equivalent cost of residential care, despite this being an unsuitable way of meeting his needs, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found. His parents had no option but to top up payments for carers so that the respite could be provided in the family home, after the man, who has severe learning difficulties and autistic spectrum disorder, had gone 16 months without respite because of a failure to agree the amount between Sefton council and the family.

Among a number of identified failings, the Ombudsman found that all evidence showed residential care to be unsuitable for the man, and it was unclear how the council concluded that it was. Despite the April 2018 assessment concluding residential respite was unsuitable and the June 2018 assessment recommending he receive respite at home, the council reduced his respite payment, wrongly setting an arbitrary upper limit, the ombudsman found.  

“In setting the amount of a direct payment… the council must ensure it is enough to buy services which will meet the person’s eligible needs,” the report said. “In [this] case, it failed to do so.”. 

The watchdog cited the statutory guidance under the Care Act, which states that, though councils may take financial considerations into account in how they meet need (though not whether they should be), they should not set arbitrary limits on how much they will pay to meet a need as this “would not deliver an approach that is person-centred or compatible with public law principles”. 

The Ombudsman also criticised the April 2018 assessment for finding that the man's needs to access the community had reduced despite concluding that his need for 2:1 care in the community was unchanged. “