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“Basic human rights are being infringed” when receiving services, Ombudsman says

Councils are being urged to treat the people they serve with fairness, respect and dignity in a new report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

06/12/22

“Basic human rights are being infringed” when receiving services, Ombudsman says

A new report from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman details how people’s basic human rights have been infringed when receiving public services in England.

The Equal Justice report explores a “catalogue of cases” where people have not been treated fairly, and suggests how things should be put right.

Cases in the report include a man with a learning disability who was regularly given sedatives by care home staff over a seven-month period, impacting on his right to a private life. In another case a council denied a homeless family the right to enjoy a family life and home when it failed to identify the property they were living in was overcrowded. And in another case, the council’s interference in a family custody dispute impacted on the father’s right to a family and private life.

In the past year, the Ombudsman has carried out 103 investigations in which the Equality Act was a significant aspect in the investigation, and a further 51 where there were Human Rights implications. Most of those cases involved the Right to Private Life, particularly in relation to people in receipt of adult care services, but other cases involved councils failing to provide education for children, or where adults were unfairly deprived of their liberty.

The report also includes case studies where the Ombudsman has investigated complaints against other rights-based laws and guidance. These include considering the rights of service personnel in the Armed Forces Covenant and Act, the rights of people with protected characteristics as set out in the Equality Act, and the requirements on public bodies in meeting the public sector equality duty.

The report highlights the common mistakes councils should look out for, which include overseeing contractors, complaint handling, day-to-day decision making, avoiding a box-ticking approach and designing services from the ground up that protect people’s rights. It also offers good practice guidance, and sample questions local councillors can ask of their authority to ensure residents’ rights are upheld.

The Ombudsman is also highlighting a new case where a man with autism was treated poorly when his employment, family life and sense of self were put at risk while his local council failed to support his needs in good time.

The Bradford man complained the council took too long to complete an assessment of his care and support needs, and when it finally did so – 16 months later – this was still not enough to allow him to continue to work and provide for his family. The man’s partner had to take on an increased caring role and this had a significant impact on their family life.

“People all too often think of Human Rights with ‘capital letters’ and in grand terms, but the basic expectations of how anyone should be treated – with fairness, respect and dignity – are just as applicable for people in their everyday lives as they are when major international events occur,” Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said.

“We all have a right to expect these basic standards when we use public services. I want to raise people’s awareness about those rights, so people can more easily recognise when their basic rights and freedoms have been neglected.

“And I urge councils to take a rights-based mindset when developing their services and making day-to-day decisions on how they are delivered.”

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