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When a Local Authority ‘panel’ takes a decision about your social care

In our experience, local authorities across the country are now routinely convening panels to make decisions regarding the allocation of resources and support. This includes when local authorities are deciding what package of support is required by young people and adults, or when they are making decisions relating to the special educational needs statutory process. At times, we do not consider that this approach is lawful.

The Care and Support Statutory Guidance (which local authorities must follow unless there is a good reason not to do so) makes clear that only in some circumstances should panels be used as a decision making tool. The guidance notes:

10.85: Due regard should be taken to the use of approval panels in both the timeliness and bureaucracy of the planning and sign-off process. In some cases, panels may be an appropriate governance mechanism to sign-off large or unique personal budget allocations and/or plans. Where used, panels should be appropriately skilled and trained, and local authorities should refrain from creating or using panels that seek to amend planning decisions, micro-manage the planning process or are in place purely for financial reasons. Local authorities should consider how to delegate responsibility to their staff to ensure sign-off takes place at the most appropriate level. In cases or circumstances where a panel is to be used, and where an expert assessor has been involved in the care and support journey, the same person or another person with similar expertise should be part of the panel to ensure decisions take into account complex or specialist issues. (our emphasis added)

We are concerned that many local authorities seem to routinely and indiscriminately use panels to sign off care packages. This breaches the Guidance quoted above, which indicates that panels may only be appropriate for unique or large budget allocations, and that local authorities should not use panels in order to micro-manage care planning processes or as a means to save money.

We also have wider concerns about the mechanisms by which decisions are taken in local authority panel meetings. In particular:

  1. Families are often not permitted to attend panel meetings.
  2. The membership of the panel is often not disclosed, so it is not possible to understand whether they have the appropriate expertise, skill and training to consider the case in question.
  3. There is often a lack of overall transparency about the decision-making that takes place at panel meetings. Typically no minutes are provided following a panel meeting, so it is not possible to understand what information was relied upon, and how any decisions were made
  4. Often it is not clear what documents have been sent to the panel to inform their decision making, and our clients have been refused requests to see all the documentation that is being considered.
  5. For many of the local authorities we come across there is no single policy document that set outs the decision making process at panel which is publicly available to the people whose lives are being affected these panel decisions. We understand that some local authorities have internal documents in this regard which they rely upon to guide their decision making.

By way of example, we recently acted for a client based in the London area whose social care package was considered at a panel meeting.  Having initially been told that they could not attend, nor see any of the papers, this was eventually overturned and they were allowed to attend the panel meeting.  The local authority were forced to concede that it had no current policy in place regarding how panels operated.

We are keen to hear from other individuals who have found themselves in a similar position to our client and who have had difficulties engaging with a local authority panel’s decision making process. This could be, for example, where individuals have not been permitted to attend a panel meeting about their care, or they have sought information about a panel’s decision making process but the local authority refused to provide it.

If this is an issue that is affecting you then please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

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