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Vulnerable man missing £10k following exploitation risk enabled by Essex social worker delays

13 February, 2016 - 12:47
Chelmsford County Hall, home of Essex County Council

Chelmsford County Hall, home of Essex County Council

The family of an elderly man who risked being exploited by a female friend are to be reimbursed by Essex County Council over missing money after a watchdog ruling.

Social workers delayed acting on the family’s concerns about possible exploitation, the Local Government Ombudsman has found.

The delay led to “significant” sums being withdrawn from the man’s bank account unchecked, and meant the family had to go through seven months of court proceedings to gain access to his house and affairs when he died in February 2013.

When they did gain access the property had been ransacked and documents were missing. Copies of bank statements later showed the regular withdrawal of money over seven months totalling more than £10,000.

The man, in his 80s and who lived alone, fell ill in March 2012 and was admitted to hospital before being transferred to a care home.

Concerns were raised by relatives about the friend in a joint meeting with a social worker in July.

The ombudsman found the council should have had serious concerns about possible financial abuse in November when a financial assessment was carried out, and that a social worker failed to take action following a mental capacity assessment in December.

The council referred the case to the police, who found no evidence the friend had stolen the money.

Following a complaint by the man’s nephew, Essex County Council accepted its record-keeping was poor and the social worker’s performance was below expectations. It also accepted it had responsibility to safeguard the man from abuse.

It offered to pay the nephew £250 and reimburse contributions the man had paid for care home charges between April and August, and the sums taken out of his bank account from December 2012.

However the nephew complained to the Local Government Ombudsman, who found the council delayed allocating a social worker for four months and delayed acting on the social worker’s request for a financial assessment for three months.

An investigation found the council at fault for failing to take action to safeguard the man and for failing to have regular supervisory sessions.

Dr Jane Martin, the Local Government Ombudsman, said: “In this case, and despite a number of warnings, social workers were slow to react and the man was put at risk of exploitation.” In addition to the council’s previous offer the ombudsman has asked the authority to pay the man’s estate £4,285.03, equal to the unexplained regular withdrawals from his bank account between November 2012 and February 2013.

It should also provide the nephew with a written apology and pay him £150 for the distress caused.

A council spokesman said: “We consider the safety and well-being of people in residential care to be an absolute priority.

“As such, since this incident, operations have been comprehensively reviewed to safeguard against such an event happening again.

“The steps taken include reorganising teams, additional training and a full supervision audit.

“There has also been an increase in overall investment in the social work area, increasing the numbers of posts in the workforce. Recruitment remains a challenge, but adult operations are now better resourced than they were at the time of the complaint.”

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