Over 3,000 DoLS Requests Ignored By Local Authority
Budget cuts and funding restrictions could be responsible for unlawfully detaining vulnerable people deprived of their liberty as local council’s have been forced to create their own guidance ranking Deprivation of Liberty Safeguard (DoLS) requests.
Due to financial pressures, Staffordshire Council restricted DoLS requests so that only cases considered high risk were considered.
According to the Ombudsman, 3,000 people have either never had their case reviewed or faced significant delays because of the DIY system Staffordshire Council created.
Between March and June 2018, delayed and incomplete DoLS applications increased from 2,927 to 3,033. Delays were so considerable that up to June 2018, a record from 2014 was still unprocessed.
Following the impact of the Cheshire West definition of what constitutes a deprivation of liberty in 2014, the council have argued that the number of cases they received were fourteen times higher when compared to previous years.
In order to assess the high priority cases, the council adapted guidance from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), dividing cases into high, medium or low priority.
Whilst the council became adept at dealing with high priority cases within the 21-day maximum recommendation, it was discovered that applications deemed low or medium priority were neglected far beyond the recommended deadlines.
The ombudsman found that 92% of urgent requests were never assessed or completed beyond recommended deadlines. Similarly, 74% of all standard cases were never reviewed or reviewed late.
Although the DoLS system is under review and transitioning into the Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS), it seems as though a reappraisal of the current system is desperately needed to ensure local authorities, currently drowning in back-logged requests, are able to process all applications.
A Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman spokesperson said: “Without an authorisation in place, the people that are the subject of these applications are being unlawfully deprived of their liberty.
“It is possible that some of the people stuck in the backlog for years should never have been deprived of their liberty.
“Because the council does not assess the majority of incoming requests, we simply do not know whether there are people waiting in the backlog who are wrongly being deprived of liberty when they actually have capacity or when less restrictive options are available.
“Resource constraints can never be a legitimate reason for not carrying out the assessments required by law or statutory guidance,” the ombudsman argued.
“While councils may decide how to prioritise cases, it is not acceptable that the only way low and medium priority applications are resolved is because the people involved move away or die.
“I would urge others to look at how they are carrying out assessments to ensure they comply with relevant law and guidance.”
Alan White, Staffordshire council’s deputy leader, Alan White, commented: “The test case put a huge additional burden on every council and we, like others, have prioritised DoLS applications to ensure those assessed as being at the highest risk are properly supported.
“No-one has complained about the policy of prioritisation since its introduction, no individual has suffered injustice and no-one’s life or health has been put at risk.
“The Government and ADASS have backed a prioritising approach and it is generally accepted that the current DoLS legislation is no longer fit for purpose.”
ADASS spokesperson said: “We are working with the CQC and the Department of Health and Social Care to find a sustainable way to deal with the backlog of deprivation of liberty applications.
“Any new approach should aim to help reduce the cost to councils of processing these applications, while also making sure that they meet their legal requirements and safeguard people who lack the capacity to consent and need to be deprived of their liberty.”
How detrimental can these delays be to the to the service user? How can the government ensure that these back logs are avoided in the future?