Impoverished councils

An interesting complaint concerning (among other things[1]) a prolonged and significant loss of respite care for a young person transitioning into adult services.  Due to challenges resulting from his impairment, his care needed to be on a ‘two-to-one’ basis.  The ombudsman’s report[2] warrants reading in full, but in essence the council concerned had focused on its resource difficulties and had refused to fund the respite care sought by the young person’s parent.  It had argued that the cost was ‘more than twice the UK average’ (para 42) and that it had to ‘consider its own finances and budgetary position’ to ensure ‘that the funding available to the local authority is sufficient to meet the needs of entire local population’ (para 50) and that the offer of support was more than what it ‘usually offers’ for respite care (para 59).

As the ombudsman points out (para 73) this was an approach that was ‘budget driven and not needs driven’. At para 86 the ombudsman required that the council’s staff were made aware that they:

should not seek to refuse or limit care choices on basis of cost, or through comparison with national or local averages. All staff must be reminded that decisions on the care individual clients receive must be based on their assessment of need and must be sufficient to meet those needs. 


The effect of the council’s behaviour was that the family lost 20 months respite care and accessed inadequate respite care for a further 14 months.  The ombudsman recommended that the council provide an apology and pay £4,000.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that councils have severe resource constraints and in consequence that they simply cannot afford essential support of the kind that this family needed.  There is no doubting that most councils are impoverished, but it must be questionable whether breaking the law and failing to provide essential support actually saves them money in the longer term.  However, many observers might consider that in this case the council was doing its best – eking out its pitiful budget – a ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ approach, as Jeremy Bentham might have intoned.

By coincidence, in the same week as the ombudsman’s report emerged, the excellent Local Government Lawyer website published details of an auditors report concerning the same council (let us call it ‘Croydon’[3]). Objectively the auditor’s report is a damning analysis of the council’s lax processes by which it made a payoff to one of its officers amounting to £437,000.  I wonder what Jeremy Bentham might have had to say about this?


[1] A significant additional dimension related to the council’s delay in registering the complaint at stage two of the complaints process because it wanted more clarification of why his mother wanted the stage two investigation (para 68).  The ombudsman found this to be fault, requiring (para 86) that the council ‘give a commitment that it will end its practice of delaying the registration of stage two complaints … to await clarification or meetings’.
[2] London Borough of Croydon (21 013 878) 28 Nov 2022.
[3] Local Government Lawyer  ‘Report on £437k settlement payment to chief executive finds approval was lawful but criticises failings in officer report, absence of legal advice and poor record keeping’ 9 December 2022 click here for the article.

Posted 12 December 2022.