Blog first posted on 17 March 2014
CORNWALL HOMECHOICE WELFARE PRIORITY ASSESSMENTS
There have always been double acts in life such as comedy duos Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe and Wise, Cannon and Ball etc.. Not all were funny though like Burke and Hare, Jekyl and Hyde, Clegg and Cameron etc..
Cornwall Council has it’s own double act in the form of Lytham and Warner of Cornwall Homechoice. Rachel Lytham, Housing Needs Officer, and Jon Warner, Homechoice Manager West/Central, mismanage Homechoice Welfare Assessments in the interest of the Council’s housing agenda rather than an applicant’s welfare needs.
That fewer applicants will be awarded the degree of priority they should be awarded to take the strain off the limited number of properties available and the Council’s legal responsibilities to certain types.
My first contact with Lytham and Warner was in correspondence regarding the potential of Homechoice bidders being duped into bidding for Homechoice properties which were ‘ringfenced’ and already allocated. A practise I believe which has gone on for years.
So how should a Homechoice Welfare Assessment work ?
The Homechoice Welfare Assessment Panel is usually made up of 4 Panel members and most of these are employees of the Council. Career minded team players if you will or brown nosers if you prefer. If the applicant disagrees with the decision made by the Panel the applicant can request a First Review Assessment which must be submitted within 28 days of the original decision/letter.
So how did it work in reality :
Background : My wife had had Mental Health problems for about 30 years and I was her officially recognised Carer for about 15 years and before she decided she needed her own living space against my advice. We then spent about 10 years apart but saw each other most weeks and she nearly always came to stay over christmas. Her MH began to deteriorate 2011-2012 and she was not coping and was living in squalor. We discussed a solution and decided to apply through Cornwall Homechoice for a 2 bedroom property where I could resume being her Carer and look after her.
We were first Assessed by a Homechoice Welfare Panel on 10 July 2012 and a decision was deferred in order for Homechoice to have my wife complete and return a Welfare Self-Assessment Form. This despite the Panel already having a completed Homechoice Special Needs Assessment Form.
The disturbing thing about this Welfare Panel is it consisted of only 2 Welfare Panel Members. These being the Housing Needs Manager Jon Warner and Occupational Therapist Angela White. Although our decision was deferred I have often wondered how many other applicants were assessed that day and awarded a level of priority which did not properly reflect their Welfare needs. That if it was appropriate and acceptable to have only 2 Welfare Panel Members conduct Welfare Assessments why should there ever be any more than 2 ?
The next Welfare Panel Assessment was on 16 October 2012 with a full compliment of 4 Welfare Panel Members. Social Worker Tony Grainger, Occupational Therapist Clemence Lincoln-Williams, a Community Psychiatric Nurse, and the Housing Needs Officer Rachel Lytham.
Having considered all the information available, including a letter of support from my wife’s doctor Dr Anthony C Hereward, the Panel awarded ‘Low Welfare Priority’ and agreed we met the eligibility criterea for 2 beds, and updated our banding to D.
Because we were unhappy with ‘Low Welfare Priority’ and did not think it reflected the level of need and urgency required we opted for a First Review. We were also unhappy being placed in the same category as Alcoholics and Drug users, who had all made a lifechoice decision, as opposed to my wife who had no choice.
According to Council First Review Policy “First reviews are re-assessed by the Welfare Panel that made the original assessment”, unquote, which was stated on the original decision/letter we received.
The First Review Assessment was on 27 November 2012 but was not re-assessed by the Welfare Panel that made the original assessment. Social worker Tony Grainger, Occupational Therapist Sarah Hill, and the Housing Needs Officer Rachel Lytham made up the 3 Welfare Panel Members. Of these only 2 were from the original assessment, the original OT was replaced and the all important Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) was absent.
The decision of the Welfare Panel was ‘Low Priority Upheld’, which was invalid because of the way it was unfairly achieved which broke Council Policy.
With me in disgust and my wife in despair we decided against anymore Homechoice Welfare Assessment fiascos.
I later found out Lytham twice referred to me as my wife’s “ex-husband” on the Welfare Assessment Panel Forms despite her knowing we were legally married. Something she still refuses to apologise for.
I continued raising questions with Lytham and Warner on emails and in early 2013 Warner suggested we be Assessed in another area where the Welfare Panel Members would not know us. An admission by Cornwall Council that a Welfare Panel in another area might in some way treat our application and assessment more fairly. We declined on the grounds the Council could not be trusted.
Official complaints were made during 2013 and the Council continued protecting only itself in not responding to them until too late. It was one of these complaints in May 2013 which involved the Local Government Ombudsman in this Complaint.
Between December 2012 to June 2013 we bidded for 45 properties through Homechoice without success. Not that any of them should have been successful given our disadvantage resulting from Council failures and the fact the Welfare Panel neglected to implement it’s option of a referral or a home visit for more information.
I understand from the LGO that the only information the Council was interested in concerned the installation of CCTV near where my wife lived. Although a minor issue, neither the LGO, Cornwall Council or Guinness Hermitage have shown any willingness to want to investigate this issue or provide me with any proof CCTV was ever installed.
My wife continued living alone and continued to deteriorate and was frequently tearful and depressed because she felt cheated and neglected and could see no end to it all.
Towards the end of May 2013 my wife was diagnosed as having a tumour on her liver. This was later diagnosed as secondary to late stage Bowel Cancer and Chemotherapy began before she was returned to my cramped and unsuitable flat for me to care for her. Homechoice was kept fully advised of the situation.
On 20 June my wife was rushed to Royal Cornwall’s A&E Department and she died 7 days later. The ‘Low Priority’ status remained with her to the grave.
Although I cannot blame anyone for her death I do blame Cornwall Council’s perverse and wilfull mismanagement of our application and for making the last year of my wife’s life so callous, abusive, unfair and depressing for her.
With regard to the Council, it’s team players, the NHS CPN and the LGO’s amoral protectionism of the Council, I have not finished with them.
With regard to the CPN, the NHS Foundation Trust has reminded me the decision of the Council’s Panel was a collective one and that they therefore all had a Duty of Care to my wife and were therefore all to blame. That because the CPN was not under contract to the NHS, and was not representing the NHS on the Panel, really, I cannot pursue an NHS complaint of Negligence against him. Him being the most qualified Panel Member to determine Mental Health issues.
Up-date : 20 March 2015 – Further investigation into this has uncovered a 2 year cover-up to hide the fact the NHS employee was not a CPN or a Mental Health Professional when he was a Panel Member. According to an explanation provided to the PHSO by the Trust he was a ‘Support Worker’ and “he was not acting in an NHS capacity whilst he was a Panel member”. Neither the Trust, the PHSO, the LGO or anyone else, is willing to explain in what capacity the Trust employee was a Panel member. A cover-up.
There is also evidence to show the then Principal Legal Officer with Cornwall Council Simon JR Mansell MBE and Rachel Lytham of Homechoice both misled the LGO into believing the NHS Support worker was a CPN which was a big fat lie.
If you or someone you know has gone through a Cornwall Homechoice Welfare Assessment and a First Review and was unhappy with the award you received, you could try a Data Protection Subject Access Request (SAR) to the Council. There is a fee of £10.00 to pay and the Council has 40 days to comply. It is unlawful for the Council to withold any information you are entitled to under the Data Protection Act. Mention Cornwall Housing/Homechoice and request the internal documents relative to your Assessment and First Review. Once you receive the information compare the Panel Members from the original assessment to that of the First Review. If different the decision was and is invalid. I personally believe the Council has probably duped thousands of applicants out of a level of priority they should have been awarded.
In memory to my late wife Alison – 12/03/1959 to 27/06/2013.