Hertfordshire County Council has been asked by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to review its social care practices to ensure it meets its Care Act duties to help people keep their home tidy.
The Ombudsman claimed that Hertfordshire County Council had "decided some needs are more important than others" after it found the council routinely telling people it would not fund support to maintain a habitable home, and that they should find the money themselves.
The LGO said this contravened the Care Act, which states being unable to maintain a habitable home environment is one of the key factors which may negatively affect a person's quality of life.
The watchdog became aware of Hertfordshire's policy when it investigated a complaint from a woman who has various medical conditions, is cared for in bed, and receives support from the council to be cared for at home.
The council reassessed the woman when her needs changed in 2018 and said her care package could be streamlined and her personal budget reduced.
But the Ombudsman's investigation found the council's reassessment did not properly define which of the woman's needs were eligible for support. This made it unclear for which of those needs the council had a duty to provide support.
The Ombudsman decided the woman likely did have an unmet eligible need for help maintaining her home. As she is cared for in bed and has very limited mobility, it was unlikely she would be able to manage cleaning and washing.
According to the report, the council also failed to produce a care and support plan that complied with statutory guidance.
Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: "In this case the council appears to have decided some needs are more important than others. This is contrary to the Care Act, which places equal importance on all eligible needs – it is designed to ensure councils do not pick and choose which they meet.
"I urge Hertfordshire County Council to reflect on my report and make the changes I have recommended. These are designed to both put things right for the woman, but also to improve its practices by bringing them in line with the Care Act."
Following its report, the Ombudsman has asked Hertfordshire to:
- apologise to the woman;
- carry out a Care Act compliant assessment of her needs, including a decision on her eligibility;
- produce a proper care and support plan;
- pay the woman £650 for failing to help her maintain a habitable home and £250 for her time and trouble complaining;
- provide evidence it has taken action to ensure: all future assessments are Care Act compliant; everyone with eligible care needs has a care and support plan compliant with statutory guidance; and it fulfils its duty to meet the need of maintaining a habitable home;
- produce a plan for identifying anyone else that has an unmet eligible need for help maintaining their home and to put right any cases uncovered.
Cllr Richard Roberts, Hertfordshire's Cabinet Member for Adult Care & Health, said: “Hertfordshire County Council have accepted the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman’s decision made in this case and are in the process of taking the necessary steps needed to comply with the recommendations, within the requested timescales.
“The council’s Social Care staff are dedicated to providing a high standard of service to all people, and do not believe that the case represents a systematic failure, but reflects the circumstances of the individual person, that we continue to work with, and support. Our Social Care staff will continue to maintain our high standards in how we practice and undertake assessments.
“Whilst the council consider this an isolated incident, the outcome will also be taken as an opportunity to review how best we ensure compliance with statutory obligations, and adherence to good practice, whilst meeting the increasing demand on our services, during these challenging times.”