I started off with high hopes for today. I set myself a manageable list of tasks and intended to finish early and recalibrate myself after a fairly jarring return to the office.
How foolish was I?
And instead I am left feeling utterly deflated and quite demoralised, having spent most of my day trying to untangle problems brought about by a system that is definitely not working to full efficiency. That’s right guys, its cynical story time…
Let me tell you the story of Bob.
Bob has lived with his brother in a house they own for an indeterminate period, but, definitely years. Bob’s brother, Bill, is recorded as having mental health problems, and is prescribed anti-psychotic medication. Neither go to the GP very often, but when they do, they go together and Bob does the talking.
Social work visits take place at the local office because Bob won’t let them come to the home. Bill doesn’t speak, Bob tells stories that aren’t linear and are confused. Most conversations with him come back to his ideas that the end of the world is near (with hindsight, maybe he had a point…)
Anyway, this light touch approach went on for a while. Assessments were never really completed because the social worker couldn’t get much information about their needs. Some social workers would have left it there. Bob got a diligent one.
So time moves on. Bob’s behavior became more bizarre and ultimately he was sectionned under s2, then s3 Mental Health Act 1983. During this process it comes to light that the house the brothers have been living in is a seriously unsafe state. We’re not just talking about some disrepair, we’re talking numerous significant safety concerns.
The description I’ve been given of that house gives me serious horror film vibes. I’ve not been myself, nor do I intend to visit, thank you very much.
That’s not all though. Once Bill is taken into a residential care facility and assessed it turns out he displays zero symptoms of any mental illness. None at all. But Bill also has very limited skills to look after himself. Because Bob has done everything. For years. Everything.
Here’s where we get to the bit where the system starts to show its cracks. Because on discharge, Bob doesn’t need to be in a residential facility, he can be supported in the community but not in the brothers’ house which has now been basically condemned by the environmental health team.
So Bob is supported to find a tenancy. A suitable one is found, but here’s the catch. Bob isn’t entitled to housing benefit because Bob not only owns half of that house, but also another property that is also condemned. But there’s value in the land. So no means tested benefits for Bob.
Bob and Bill between them have 1 bank account, which has only a few hundred quid in it.
There’s the benefits system not fitting into place as we’d have hoped.
The housing department could help him find accommodation, but it’s not their job to make sure he can pay rent.
So is Bob going to be homeless?
Thankfully not. An arrangement is reached that the local authority will fund his rent until a suitable person to help him with his benefits is identified. It’s a supported living placement and everyone is happy with that.
Except the local authority isn’t really happy. That’s a cost they probably can’t recover under the Care Act 2014, and he’s not agreed to reimburse the cost (and doesn’t have capacity to enter into such a binding agreement anyway).
That puzzle piece isn’t fitting either.
So a referral is made for a deputy. He doesn’t meet the criteria for the local authority to be appointed deputy, and panel deputies laugh us out of the building when they find out how little value all his property has. It won’t justify their costs.
We can get an appointee, to manage his small non means tested benefit income through DWP, but that won’t cover his living costs. If he sells the houses though, or at least makes steps to start selling, his entitlement to housing benefits might change. But as long as those houses are his, he’s not getting housing benefit.
Let’s remember neither of these houses are even remotely safe for anyone to live in. Even the rats are cautious.
So selling the houses is the answer. But Bob doesn’t want to sell them. And Bob lacks capacity to make that decision anyway. And no one wants to be deputy.
But here’s the real kicker. The piece de resistance, if you will. Because of the dispute about whether or not to sell the house, the court won’t deal with this on the papers. So Bob needs representation. But Bob has no money to pay a solicitor. And Bob owns houses so isn’t entitled to legal aid. And Bob is getting further and further into debt whilst the court tries to figure out a way forward.
So, yeah, that piece isn’t quite fitting right either.
His social worker’s at the end of her patience, local authority budget holders are watching the money they’ll probably never recover build up and up. I’m under pressure to get this resolved ASAP.
The judge wants medical evidence, the psychiatrist won’t give it without a court order. So we’ve got to apply for an order under s49 Mental Capacity Act 2005, get a listing, wait at least 8 weeks for the report to come back and get another listing. All involved continue to feel very uncomfortable about how far this is departing from the expected process….
And it’s no one’s fault. At all. Every single person involved is doing their job and trying their best to help Bob, within the boundaries of the system we all have to work. But the system just isn’t set up for this type of scenario. So we’re building the jigsaw without any edge pieces or a picture on the box.
And here’s the real fun I’ve been having. Could I find a barrister to advise us on any of this, with actually relevant experience? Of course not. So we found the best fit, and she and I continue to do our best.
But mostly we just all have a headache.