Direct Payments: ombudsman’s report and research findings

Coinciding with a major research report[1] concerning the direct payments system – the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales has issued a hard hitting report[2] illustrating the problems with such payments in Wales.

The Ombudsman’s report describes a council that managed to get just about everything wrong in the way it calculated the amount of a direct payment and then (when the failure was patent) failed to set about remedying its error.  The complaint spans a period of almost six years and even at the end of this the ombudsman concludes that:

the remedial action taken by the Council was piecemeal and it lacked customer focus. From the information I have seen, I am not satisfied that all the arrears have been paid. Furthermore, the Council has not acknowledged the full extent of the failings in this case or offered a proper apology to Mr A for the impact on him and his family.

The Council accepted that there was a significant need for the family to have short breaks care – but failed to commission the care – such that the family agreed to have a direct payment to enable it to employ carers for this purpose.  The Council then used a flawed process for calculating the amount of the direct payment and (when this error was obvious) failed to reimburse the family for the full financial shortfall; failed to comply with the relevant guidance issued by the Welsh Government; failed to properly investigate the complaint; and exacerbated the problem by creating substantial delay.  The full ombudsman’s report can be accessed by clicking here.

 

Many of the failings identified by the ombudsman are problems highlighted in a research report[3] published by the School of Law, Leeds University Cerebra Legal Entitlements and Problem-Solving (LEaP) Project.

The research report found that direct payment rates of pay for Personal Assistants (PAs) were very low, typically at minimum wage rates. It concluded that in many council areas there is a serious ‘market failure’ – such that authorities are arguably in breach of their statutory and public law obligations to families with disabled children.  Its key findings include:

  • that Direct Payment rates were too low to employ suitable PAs despite their local authority being willing to pay much higher rates for agency staff;
  • that the difficulty of finding suitable staff who were prepared to work for the rates imposed by local authorities was a major and reoccurring theme of the survey as was fear by respondents of losing the Direct Payments if they were not able to find such staff;
  • that there was a lack of knowledge by families as to how Direct Payments were calculated and what the actual rate was in individual cases ;
  • that strict rationing of resources is resulting in families experiencing stress, an acute lack of support and prolonged ‘battles’ to secure basic services that they are entitled to by law.

To access the full research report, click here.

Photograph of ‘Gwyr’ by Richard Jones -@lluniaurich
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[1] L Clements, S Woodin, S McCormack and D Tilley Direct Payments for Disabled Children and Young People, and their Families (Cerebra 2019).
[2] The investigation of a complaint against Conwy County Borough Council.   A report by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales: Case No 201800208 dated 31 July 2019.
[3] L Clements, S Woodin, S McCormack and D Tilley Direct Payments for Disabled Children and Young People, and their Families (Cerebra 2019).