A vulnerable woman was left without care for an entire month after a council failed to meet her care needs.

Durham County Council let the woman, known as Mrs X, down and left her without care for a month from July 7, 2022, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) said.

The issue arose when the woman’s previous carer left their job on July 6 that year.

The council had tried to find a replacement but told her it was unlikely they’d have one for the next day and offered to give her direct payments to employ a family member as her carer or she’d have to go into residential respite care.

Mrs X “repeatedly” said she didn’t want direct payments as she couldn’t manage without care but was given them anyway.

The council advertised for a new carer on June 30, but two weeks after her old carer had left, on July 20, she left with only her husband helping her.

It wasn’t until August 10, more than a month later, that new carers were found to take over, but Mrs X had to foot some of the weekly bill herself.

The woman later complained she felt she had been “pressurised” into taking the money as she didn’t want to go into residential care. Responding to her complaint DCC said it had been her choice to do without care, rather than accept the respite.

Meanwhile in an internal council email it was admitted Mrs X had been forced into debt having to pay for some of her care herself.

The email: “Unfortunately we have a post code lottery situation here where the client’s remote location disadvantages her from contracted care services from which she has been forced into debt through the direct payment arrangements and top-ups, when her [Council] financial assessment stated she was not required to make a contribution.”

The council eventually refunded the money she’d had to pay plunging her into debt.

The LGO said the council failed to review her needs when her old carer left or ensure her budget was enough to meet her needs. If it had, it may have avoided her being without care for an entire month.

It was also found the council had “failed to meet all of her needs” since February 2023 when a cleaning company stopped attending her home.

Durham County Council agreed to pay the woman £1,000 compensation and write to her apologising to meet her needs.

In its ruling, the ombudsman said: “When the Council’s care provider gave notice for Mrs X’s package of care in June 2022, it only considered other care providers which accepted its hourly rate. When they were not prepared to take on her care package, it should have reviewed her care and support plan and made sure her personal budget was enough to meet her needs.

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“The failure to do so was fault by the Council. It should also have considered other care providers […] which charge more. Had it done so, it may have been possible to avoid the lack of care provision between 7 July and 9 August 2022.

“That caused injustice to Mr & Mrs X, as they had to cope without any formal support.”

Lee Alexander, Durham County Council’s head of adult care, said: “We have written to the resident to sincerely apologise. We will act swiftly to implement all the actions identified and will update the Ombudsman on the steps taken.”