Disabled man’s carers let him pay for their food – despite him being ‘very vulnerable to financial exploitation’

Stockport council has been ordered to reimburse him

Carers of a disabled man let him pay for their food despite the fact he lacked the mental capacity to manage his finances.

Stockport council has been ordered to reimburse him for any meals he shelled out for over a 12 month period – and also ensure others have not been treated similarly.

It comes after the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) upheld a complaint against the authority from the disabled man’s father.

A report from the ombudsman notes how, in January 2020, ‘Mr D’ complained to the council about staff eating meals at his son’s expense.

The disabled man – referred to as ‘Mr E’ in the report – was living at a 24-hour supported housing unit, and was supported by two carers when out in the community.

The council responded that it would be ‘difficult to investigate’ the complaint without evidence of the dates and times this was alleged to have happened.

It added that staff brought their own food – which they ate with tenants at meal times as ‘good practice’ – so needed proof to back up Mr D’s claim.

However, the council later changed tack and chose to treat the issue as a safeguarding referral, rather than a complaint.

In a letter to Mr D in May 2020, the council confirmed that ‘Mr E regularly bought meals at fast food outlets for himself and, on some occasions, paid for food and drinks for the staff who supported him’.

It said the spending was in line with the care providers’ current policy, so there was ‘no evidence of financial abuse and this was therefore not a safeguarding matter’.

Mr D was invited to raise the matter ‘as a complaint rather than a safeguarding matter’ if he continued to have concerns.

However, in a withering assessment of its handling of the complaint, the LGSCO found ‘fault in the council’s actions’.

The report states: “The council accepts that Mr E lacked capacity to manage his finances. He was very vulnerable to financial exploitation.

“I therefore do not understand why the council thought it was acceptable to have a policy which said that support staff could use Mr E’s money to pay for food without consulting Mr E’s parents or without any decision that this was in Mr E’s best interest.

“At the very least, the council should have informed Mr D and Mrs D of its intention and should have invited them to a best interest meeting so that a decision could be made on how this type of expenditure was dealt with.”

The LGSCO report goes on the highlight an inconsistency in the council’s claim that Mr E’s spending on carers’ meals was in line with the provider’s policy.

This, it points out, is at odds with the initial reponse which suggested that it would not have been acceptable – and evidence was needed to back up claims it had.
And the ombudsman also finds fault with the council’s response to Mr D in May 2020.

The report reads: “I agree that the matter may not have been a safeguarding concern if there was no evidence of financial abuse by the staff.

“However, that did not mean there was no fault in the actions of the care provider and the council’s complaint response should have addressed this.”

The LGSCO found further fault with the communication of Mr E’s care plan – which it transpired should provide him with 38 hours 2:1 care each week to allow him to access the community.

The ombudsman found it was ‘not clear, from the plan, how many hours of support Mr E was entitled to and how the budget was calculated’.

And it also criticised the council’s complaint response dated February 2020 as it ‘said the care plan did not specify the hours of 2:1 support, which was not true’.

A breakdown in communication on behalf of the care provider also led to a delay in administering medication, meaning Mr E suffered blocked ears and dry skin longer than he should have.

The council has agreed to take the following action within one month of the ombudsman’s decision:

• Apologise in writing to Mr D and Mr E for the faults.

• Check Mr E’s records for 2019 and find out the incidents when Mr E’s money was used to pay for staff members’ food and drink and reimburse Mr E with this amount.

• Pay Mr E £150 to reflect the injustice suffered by the poor care provided in relation to the medication.

• Contact any other resident/their representative who has been affected by the policy (payment of staff members’ food and drink) and inform them of the Ombudsman’s decision and ask them whether they wish to make a complaint.

Stockport council has been approached for comment.