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Council apologises and pays vulnerable woman after watchdog identifies assessment flaws

An apology has been issued by the council after a watchdog found it failed to ‘properly assess’ how it could help a mother at risk of sexual exploitation.

The council has also paid £500 to the woman, referred to as Ms C in a council report, following the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s (LGO) finding.

Ms C was trafficked into the UK in 2010 as a sex worker, had become dependent on drugs and suffered domestic abuse.

The council report states she had a child in 2015, which was put into care in Birmingham, and in July 2016 she became homeless.

By then she was a regular drug user and engaged in ‘risky behaviours’ to fund her habit.

Ms C was referred to the council in August 2016 and she was judged to be at risk of sexual exploitation.

She was assessed by the Community Mental Health Team that month, but was found to not meet two or more outcomes as required under the Care Act.

Ms C was then referred to the Berkshire Healthcare Community Team for People with a Learning Disability, which could not assess her due to her continued drug and alcohol use.

Meanwhile, two to five times a week, she was supported by the SMART drug and alcohol team.

It was found Ms C had ‘no recourse to public funds’ as she did not meet conditions set out in Section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

She was also only able to access housing support from social services if her human rights were breached but in January 2017, an assessment found her rights were not breached.

In December 2016, the council decided it had no duty to house Ms C, but a month earlier it had housed her under the severe weather emergency protocol, which the council uses to shelter rough sleepers from bad weather.

She remained there, the report states, until returning to the Czech Republic in May 2017. The LGO found she could have gone back sooner if the human rights assessment had been carried out earlier.

The report adds the council’s adult social care service ‘carried out extensive searches’ to find support for Ms C, and she had failed to attend an appointment for assessment at a service in Southall.

The report states under lessons learned: “This was an unusual case.

“Few practitioners have experience in dealing with cases such as this.

“The law is not clear and practitioners needed to gain legal advice to support their decision making.

“On hindsight the case could have been treated as a safeguarding concern/enquiry from the outset which would have activated a controlled multi-agency response, instead of the numerous points that Mrs C presented extended the overall response.”

The LGO inspector’s report found: “Overall I consider there was delay by the council in recognising the process it needed to go through to assess what duties, if any, it had to Ms C.

“The council knew Ms C was homeless in August but a formal decision was only made on her status as homeless and whether the Council had any duties to her in December.”

Ms C was paid in January this year and apologised to in April.

The report is due to be discussed at the council’s Adult Services and Health Overview and Scrutiny Panel on Wednesday, June 20.

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