Section 9 needs assessments: a box- ticking exercise?
As part of the de-institutionalisation of care and accommodation for vulnerable adults, local authorities increasingly engage external housing and care providers to deliver statutory care and accommodation.
However, the commissioning local authority remains responsible for the assessment of individual needs for care and support under the Care Act 2014 (CA 2014).
The case R (JF through his mother and litigation friend)-v- Merton London Borough Council (2017) EWHC 1519 (Admin) highlights the importance of carrying out a proper assessment of the individual's needs before a local authority can lawfully change the arrangements for their care and/or accommodation provided under the CA 2014.
JF was a 24 year old man with complex needs. He ordinarily required one-to-one and on occasion, two-to-one support. JF had been residing at a residential college (the College), funded by the Merton LBC (the Council).
The Council prepared a needs assessment under Section 9 CA 2014, which it sent to JF's parents in March 2016. It stated that JF's placement at the College would terminate at the end of March 2016 and that a potential alternative 52-week residential placement at a lodge had been identified.
The Council argued (amongst other things) that JF could be provided with less expensive accommodation because he did not need the on-site multidisciplinary team support currently provided at the College. The Council confirmed that the Lodge had undertaken a pre-admission assessment of JF and was equipped to meet his needs. JF's parents had visited the lodge, but did not consider it to be suitable.
JF applied for Judicial Review of the Council's decision to move him from the College to the lodge on the basis that it had failed to undertake a lawful assessment of JF's needs, in breach of its statutory duties under CA 2014.
In reaching its decision, the Court set out the legislative framework applicable to the assessment of JF's needs and the Council's duty to promote JF's wellbeing under Section 1 CA 2014, which included the suitability of his living accommodation. The Court highlighted the importance of ensuring that the needs assessment undertaken under Section 9 CA 2014 took into account JF's wishes and feelings, the outcomes he wished to achieve in day-to-day life and the extent to which the care and support provided could contribute to achieving those outcomes.
The Court concluded that the Council had failed to properly assess JF's needs, prior to taking the decision to change his placement. The decision to move JF to the lodge was therefore quashed and the Council was ordered to undertake another assessment under Section 9 CA 2014.
This serves as a reminder that although local authorities may favour a placement because it is more cost-effective, or there are limited options available, they have an overarching duty to promote the individual's wellbeing and are not excused from carrying out a proper assessment of their needs.