Council fined £1,000 after Somerset woman left unable to bathe in her own home

By Daniel Mumby - Local Democracy Reporter

24th Nov 2022 | Local News

Somerset County Council\'s Headquarters At County Hall In Taunton. CREDIT: Daniel Mumby. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.
Somerset County Council\'s Headquarters At County Hall In Taunton. CREDIT: Daniel Mumby. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

A Somerset woman has been paid £1,000 in compensation after county council delays left her unable to bathe in her own home.

The woman, known only as Miss X, was unable to access her kitchen to cook or use her bathroom to bathe after Somerset County Council failed to carry out a timeless assessment with an occupational therapist.

Miss X complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, which ruled that the council had needlessly delayed the assessment, which itself turned out to be "inadequate".

The council has apologised to Miss X and her family, stating that the well-being of those in its care was its "top priority".

The ombudsman exists to investigate allegations of "maladministration" and "service failure" in the public sector – in other words, instances in which it is claimed councils have not fully carried out their legal duties to taxpayers.

Miss X lives in a housing association property with her partner and son, with the property's tenancy agreement being in her partner's name.

She "suffers from a number of medical conditions" and has restricted mobility, being unable to live upstairs in her property and using a wheelchair wherever she goes outside.

She first contacted the council in June 2020 after she purchased a powered wheelchair, stating she needed a ramp over her doorstep and over steps down her path to ensure she could get in and out without her son and partner having to lift the wheelchair.

In July, the council allocated Miss X's case to an occupational therapist who would visit the property and carry out an assessment.

However, the council made no further contact with Miss X until July 2021, and the therapist did not end up visiting the property until early-October that year.

The therapist recommended that a stair-lift be installed in the property, as well as a ramp and a raised toilet seat, all funded by a disabled facilities grant (DFG).

Under the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996, councils have a legal duty to provide grants to allowed disabled people to make adaptations to their house, allowing them to remain in the comfort of their own homes for as long as possible.

Miss X argued the assessment was "inadequate", claiming that the therapist's visit was too brief and did not take account of the kitchen area.

The council responded that Miss X had demonstrated she could move around her property on crutches and therefore did not need an adapted kitchen.

Miss X contacted the council again in November 2021 to ask for an update, being told that the therapist was waiting for permission from the housing association to carry out any changed.

She complained to the council in December 2021, claiming the therapist would not respond to calls or emails and was "not taking seriously" the risks posed to Miss X by her conditions.

The council did not respond to her complaint until early-March 2022, and her raised toilet seat was installed two months later – but the ramp was not provided as of June 2022.

The council told the ombudsman that there was a national shortage of occupational therapists and that DFG work was often "not classed as high priority".

They added the DFG grant requests were currently handled by the district councils, which were "struggling to manage the volume of requests" received.

The ombudsman found that the council's delays had left Miss X "unable to access her bathroom to bathe" and was unable to "independently leave her property for longer than necessary".

Its investigation found the delays between the point of first contact and the assessment being carried out was "excessive" and was a case of "service failure" which "caused distress and uncertainty".

It upheld that the therapist's assessment was "inadequate" due to its brief length, and criticised the council for taking six months to provide the raised toilet seat, as well as the lack of progress regarding the ramp.

The ombudsman concluded: "The council needs to pursue the matter with some urgency with the housing association and other relevant organisations to address the issues which are preventing the installation of the ramp and progress of the DFG application, or to find other solutions."

The ombudsman ordered the council to apologise in writing to Miss X for "the distress, uncertainty and avoidable time and trouble caused to her" and pay her £1,000 in compensation – £500 for the delayed assessment, and £500 for the delay in providing the raised toilet seat.

A spokesperson for Somerset County Council said: "The well-being of our residents is our top priority, and we strive to ensure we meet their care and support needs.

"On this occasion we didn't get it right and we will be apologising to the family. We accept the ruling of the ombudsman and will be implementing the recommendations."

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