This is a case that raises serious questions about how a local authority tasked with the duty to safeguard adults such as AC, can breach human rights in such a significant and fundamental way. Often adults without capacity need assistance from the council in organising their benefits and finances, but in this case the actions of Brent intervening, where appropriate support was already being provided, are frankly bizarre!
AC, an adult, lives in supported accommodation arranged and funded by Brent social services. He has learning disabilities and autism and is mostly non-verbal. Until late 2014 his mother managed his income from benefits as his DWP “appointee”.
In early 2015, AC’s mother became concerned because her son’s benefits had stopped. She rang up the DWP to find out why, but was told “Sorry, we can’t talk to you”. She asked why they couldn’t talk to her, but they said they could not tell her that either. After several attempts to get more information from the DWP and social services she eventually found out that the London Borough of Brent had taken control of her son’s benefits.
Meanwhile, AC had virtually no income. He couldn’t pay his carers’ travel expenses, his gym membership or his college fees. His world shrunk as he was confined at home for much of the week without activities to look forward to. He was unhappy and distressed.
At the end of 2015, AC’s parents sought advice from our Monica Kreel a community care specialist. Monica Kreel raised a number of issues with the London Borough of Brent. Why had had they taken control of AC’s benefits as appointee without the knowledge or permission of his parents? What had happened to his income? She asked the local authority and the DWP to properly investigate these issues.
Monica also noticed that AC’s care arrangements had not been authorised by the Court of Protection. AC was under a high degree of supervision and control and was not free to leave. This means that the Court of Protection needs to consider whether this deprivation of liberty is lawful.
In June 2016, Brent applied to the Court of Protection. At a hearing in August 2016, Brent agreed to the family’s request for a Safeguarding Adult Review, under s44 Care Act, to look at what had gone wrong with AC’s finances. The local authority also agreed to look again at AC’s care plan.
The Safeguarding Adult Review concluded that AC had been financially abused by Brent. It found that the local authority had unjustifiably taken control of AC’s benefits behind the backs of AC’s family, through a series of incompetent actions and misunderstandings. Having gained official control of his benefits, Brent then failed to ensure that it filled in the benefits claim forms sent by the DWP, which resulted in AC losing his benefits. Finally, Brent denied AC access to what little money he had left.
The review report was submitted to the Court of Protection. A revised care plan, with an increase in hours, was also submitted. The family agreed with the findings of the review and were satisfied with the new care plan.
At the final hearing in October 2016, a final order was made by consent which included a declaration that Brent had breached AC’s human rights. The judge authorised AC’s deprivation of liberty under the new revised care plan. The family was entitled to financial compensation but did not want any; money could not make up for the distress experienced by their son. The DWP’s actions in accepting the request to transfer the appointee without any scrutiny has not been fully investigated, but there do appear to be further failings on a policy level which the DWP should explore.
Monica Kreel is a community care law specialist. To contact Monica by email firstname.lastname@example.org