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Visual impairment rehabilitation timeframes

Danny Dooney, Legal Rights Officer at the RNIB has provided the following note concerning a recent Ombudsman decision.[1]  It found Hammersmith and Fulham LBC was at fault for failing to provide visual impairment rehabilitation within 3 months.

The finding provides a welcome acknowledgement of the legal duty on councils under the Care Act section 2, to provide early intervention[2] preventative services, such as visual impairment rehabilitation[3]. It is also the first time the Ombudsman has commented on the appropriate timeframe for councils to deliver such support.

The complaint concerned a young woman with sight loss and various other health conditions who found herself caught in a seemingly endless cycle of assessment referrals between adult and sensory services (4 in total), resulting in her waiting nearly 2 years for visual impairment rehabilitation and other support. Citing the Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) position statement on vision impairment rehabilitation, the Ombudsman also found the council at fault for failing to have a clear ‘sight loss pathway’ and recommended that the council review its sensory team’s capacity to establish whether this needed increasing to meet the 3 month timeframe for delivering VI rehabilitation.

The financial pressures faced by councils have left many sensory teams chronically under-resourced. This often translates into lengthy waiting times for people who may have just lost their sight and need timely access to rehabilitation training to relearn basic daily living tasks that are essential to maintain independence (such as preparing food or accessing the community).  Delays can often be made worse by councils deciding to ‘pause’ the Care Act 2014 assessment process pending the input of preventative services,[4] which in practice can lead to people being placed on a lengthy waiting list without any needs assessment being completed.

While this Ombudsman decision will not address the funding issues behind under-resourced rehabilitation services, it does helpfully provide some structure to what people should be able to expect from their council in terms of the delivery of early-intervention preventative services and may be a useful decision to cite where lengthy waiting lists are in operation.

To access the ombudsman decision, click here.

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[1] Complaint no 18 019 465 against Hammersmith and Fulham LBC, 25 February 2020.
[2] See para. 2.1 of the Care and Support Statutory Guidance
[3] See para. 2.9 of the Care and Support Statutory Guidance
[4] See para. 6.25 and 6.62 of the Care and Support Statutory Guidance