Staffordshire CC left vulnerable people in danger of being unlawfully deprived of their liberty due to funding pressures, the local government and social care ombudsman has said.
An investigation by Michael King found Staffordshire in May 2016 decided to only carry out assessments for those cases it classified as high priority.
The council then used an adapted version of guidance issued by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services which meant fewer requests for assessments were treated this way.
Councils must carry out assessments ahead of anyone being deprived of their liberty when it is believed to be in their own interests to do so.
The Cheshire West Supreme Court ruling in 2014 widened the definition of who was entitled to deprivation of liberty safeguards (DoLS), increasing the burden on councils.
Staffordshire had a backlog of 3,033 DoLS cases by June last year, with some requests dating back to August 2014.
”Without the correct authorisation in place, there is a risk that people are being unlawfully deprived of their liberty,” Mr King said.
He added the Staffordshire case “was at the extreme end of the way councils are dealing with DoLS issues”.
”Resource constraints can never be a legitimate reason for not arrying out the assessments required by law or statutory guidance”, Mr King added. “While councils may decide how to prioritise cases, it is not acceptable that the only way low and medium priority applications are resolved is because the people invloved move away or die.”
He recommended the council produce an action plan within three months of a current amendment of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 being finalised by Parliament, which takes into account any changes to the law and guidance.
The plan, Mr King added, “should include a mechanism for addressing those cases where the request is eventually not approved, and an unlawful deprivation of liberty has had a potentially harmful impact on that person”.
Staffordshire deputy leader Alan White (Con) said: “The government and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services have backed a prioritising approach and it is generally accepted that the current DoLS legislation is no longer fit for purpose.
“Regarding the implications of the Ombudsman’s findings, I would emphasise that no-one has complained about the prioritisation scheme, no individual has actually suffered injustice and we are not being asked to change what we do on a day-to-day basis until it’s time to implement the recommendations of the government’s amendment to the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which will be next year at the earliest.”