SOMERSET Council has been fined £3,000 after it failed to provide the proper care for an autistic man.

The man, known as Mr C, was placed at the Grove Court independent living facility in Shepton Mallet, which is run by the Warrington-based care company Lifeways.

Mr C’s family complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO), claiming Lifeways had failed to provide Mr C with adequate care, forcing him to move back in with his parents.

Somerset Council – which commissioned Lifeways to provide the service – has apologised and agreed to pay thousands of pounds to compensate Mr C and his family for the inconvenience this has caused them.

The ombudsman exists to investigate allegations of “maladministration” and “service failure” in the public sector – in other words, instances in which it is claimed councils have not fully carried out their legal duties to taxpayers.

Under the Autism Act 2009, all front-line care workers and council staff in contact with autistic people should be trained to “make reasonable adjustments in their behaviour and communication”, with council staff making an “appropriate needs assessment” where requested.

Grove Court, located off Old Wells Road in the western part of Shepton Mallet, is advertised as a “specialist supported living service” with a modern four-bedroom bungalow, ten self-contained one-bedroom flats and a communal lounge.

The facility is aimed at people with “learning disabilities, brain injuries, physical disabilities, mental health conditions or autism”, and is designed to allow them to live as independently as possible while receiving the necessary care.

Mr C, who has autism and “complex health problems”, moved into the facility in March 2020, around the time of the first national coronavirus lockdown.

He had been living with his parents since December 2019, having left his previous care provision due to “disruptive behaviour, absconding, threatening behaviour towards himself and others, inappropriateness around women, and verbal aggression.”

The council had completed an assessment of Mr C’s needs, which Lifeways said it would meet, and a bespoke support plan was put in place for him.

Before moving in, Mr C met with staff and asked to choose his own support staff.

Lifeways assured him this would be possible, but “did not involve him in the recruitment process” beyond inviting him to attend interviews and submit questions.

Mr C complained that the mainly female support staff “did not share his interests” and changed on a daily basis – including seven different staff in as many days in September 2021 – which “increased his anxiety and triggered behaviour”.

During this time, his care package was inexplicably reduced by one-and-a-half hours a day, without any formal review or informing Mr C or his parents.

Lifeways acknowledged these issues at a review meeting in April 2021, stating it would seek to address this “significant challenge” – and said they would fit Mr C with a tracker after he had “gone missing several times in the preceding months and got into a physical altercation with a member of public”.

Further meetings to review Mr C’s care took place in May 2021, with female staff claiming Mr C had “made threats” to them.

Lifeways claimed they had fitted Mr C with a tracker but he had disabled it after he attempted to abscond the facility – an allegation Mr C denied.

Mr C absconded from Grove Court numerous times, being found at a bus stop “inappropriately dressed” in the cold and rain on one occasion by the police.

He further contended that Lifeways did not provide adequate support, forgetting to remind him to have a daily wash, not helping him to cook meals, and “ignoring professional and family advice” about his care needs.

Lifeways responded that Mr C did not always allow staff to enter his flat, that they supported him with microwaveable meals, and did remind him about regular appointments and meetings.

Things came to a head in October 2021 when building work started outside Mr C’s flat, causing him distress.

Lifeways says they had given him notice of the building work by letter, but Mr C disputed this – with the ombudsman finding “no evidence” that notice was given.

Mr C expressed his “unhappiness”, stating he had started “having nightmares about his family being murdered” following a threat from another resident and had broken the locks on his door.

After a member of the public found him “lying in the middle of the road”, Lifeways gave Mr C 28 days’ notice to leave on the grounds that it could not keep other residents and its staff safe from him.

During this 28-day period, Mr C had his kettle removed and only had 20 minutes of direct access to staff per day – resulting in him once having to wait up to six hours to be cleaned after soiling himself.

Mr C was said to have physically assaulted a staff member on November 18, 2021, which resulted in the police being called, and he left the facility on November 26, moving back in with his parents.

The ombudsman ruled that Lifeways “did not properly support Mr C”, especially when it came to meals, and acted in a manner which was “not in line with its agreement” with the council to provide care services.

It also stated that records of the various incidents involving Mr C were “inadequate” and did not seek to prevent any repeat of such incidents “in a meaningful way”.

Despite the council being in regular contact with Mr C’s family, there were “missed opportunities” to consider how his care could be changed to improve his mood and behaviour.

While Lifeways did provide basic autism training for its staff, the ombudsman ruled there was “a lack of any planning” when it came to newly recruited staff and the training was not sufficient for staff members to understand and meet Mr C’s needs.

The ombudsman concluded: “Mr C has now lost confidence in his own abilities and trust in the council that it will provide him with viable future independent living.

“Mr C’s family have consistently stepped in to advocate and support Mr C which has also caused them time, trouble, and distress.”

The ombudsman has ordered the council to formally apologise to Mr C and his family, and to pay them £3,000 in view of the “service failure, distress and uncertainty” they had caused.

Mr C’s housing needs will also be reviewed with fresh eyes, with a personal budget allocated and any plan signed off by a trained autism specialist.

A council spokesman said: “We have accepted the recommendations in the ombudsman report, including a remedy payment, and these are now under way.

“We offer our sincerest apologies to Mr C for any distress caused to him, and are committed to learning from this experience to improve our services for the future.”

Lifeways was approached by the Local Democracy Reporting Service but did not respond when asked for comment.