Local Government Ombudsman warns councils over poor social care practice

Posted on: July 19th, 2017

Vulnerable people, including those suffering from mental incapacity because of learning difficulties, old age, mental illness or as a result of an accident or medical negligence are being let down or forced into situations against their will because care providers are not going through the proper processes, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

In a report published today, the Ombudsman highlights concerns it has about the way some of the most vulnerable people in society are being treated when decisions are made on their behalf as they are unable to do so for themselves. This could relate to anything from choosing how they are cared for, who they have contact with and where they reside.

The Ombudsman’s investigations show that some councils and care providers do not properly understand the processes for making decisions on behalf of people who lack mental capacity. The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman is responsible for investigating complaints about social care usually involving disputes about how it is funded or delivered.

The Ombudsman found one in five social care complaints made to the service last year concerned mental capacity or deprivation of liberty cases. More than two-thirds of these complaints were upheld, compared to 53% of all complaints across social care more generally.

Problems the Ombudsman sees include not carrying out, or delaying, assessments to determine whether someone has the capacity to make decisions for themselves; poor decision making when deciding on someone’s best interests; and not involving friends and families in the decision process.

In one case highlighted in the report, a stroke victim was forced into a care home against his will after social workers in clear contravention legislation made assumptions about his capacity without properly assessing it. He was later found to have had the capacity to make a decision about where to live himself.

The report also includes problems the Ombudsman sees with the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) regime. This includes cases where people have been left in care homes, having not had the proper assessments carried out and potentially being unlawfully deprived of their freedom for many years.

In one case, a care home took six months to apply for a DoLS order for one of its residents who had dementia. The council involved also failed to inform the man’s wife or any of his family of the decision. His wife suffered frustration and upset about being cut out of this important decision.

Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said the people these measures were designed to protect were “all too often” let down by poor practice.

While I appreciate the complex emotional and practical decisions social workers need to make, the people they look after are still entitled to be treated fairly, and have their assessments undertaken correctly and in a timely manner.


The Ombudsman’s willingness to challenge Local Authorities on poor practice and the high success rate for those that do complain shows the value in being willing to challenge poor decisions. From my own experience I am cautious about singling out social workers as they are not the only professionals who have responsibility for assessing capacity. This is especially true in places such as hospitals, where the lack of knowledge and application of the proper procedures may also be of concern.

Against a background of reduced budgets and rising demand it is important to understand the level of pressure and expectations being placed on adult social care. The lesson to those who are preparing for themselves, or a loved one, to encounter the care system is to adopt a politely challenging approach with decision-makers.

Challenging bad decisions can be a daunting prospect especially if you or a loved one is disabled or unwell. Coffin Mew can assist in challenging such decisions, ensuring receipt of the full support to which people are entitled.

The Ombudsman’s report can be found here.