Poverty and Inequality

01.04.19

Council ‘unlawfully failed’ to carry out liberty deprivation checks for thousands of vulnerable people due to financial pressures

A council has deliberately failed to assess thousands of vulnerable people who may have been unlawfully deprived of their liberty, the local government ombudsman has ruled.

Staffordshire County Council decided in May 2016 that it would stop carrying out assessments of vulnerable people except for high-priority cases.

Since May 2016, the council told the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman it had closed nearly 2,000 applications without assessment where a person had died before one could take place.

Staffordshire council was aware at the time of the decision and was aware it would be breaking the relevant legislation, but made the decision anyway because of financial pressures.

The ombudsman said the county council was using an adapted version of a priority ranking system which meant fewer requests were categorised as high priority.

It said the authority had a backlog of 3,000 requests for assessments at the end of June, with some dating back to 2014, and that “without the correct authorisation in place, there is a high risk that people are being unlawfully deprived on their liberty.”

The local government and social care ombudsman, Michael King, commented: “Resource constraints can never be a legitimate reason for not carrying out the assessments required by law or statutory guidance.

“While councils may decide how to prioritise cases, it is not acceptable that the only way low and medium-priority applications are resolved is because the people involved move away or die.

“Because the council does not assess the majority of requests we simply do not know if there are people waiting in the backlog who are wrongly being deprived of their liberty when they actually have capacity, or when less restrictive options are available.”

King said the ombudsman issued a focus report in 2017 highlighting the problems it was seeing in this area, and that whilst Staffordshire’s is “at the extreme end,” he urged other authorities to look at how they carry out assessments.

Staffordshire County Council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for health, care and wellbeing, Alan White, defended the authority’s decision and said it is generally accepted that the current legislation is “no longer fit for purpose.”

“Regarding the implications of the Ombudsman’s findings, I would emphasise that no-one has complained about the prioritisation scheme, no individual has actually suffered injustice.”

Whilst the ombudsman has made recommendations, the council said it was not being asked to change its day-to-day services until it’s time to implement the recommendations of the government’s amendment to the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which will be next year at the earliest.

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