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Dear Tony

August 26, 2016

An open letter to Tony Zaman, Director of Housing & Adult Social Care @ London Borough of Hillingdon.

Dear Mr Zaman.

It was only recently that I discovered that you hold the dual portfolio roles of Director of Housing & Director of Adult Social Care. Thankfully, you are ideally positioned to intervene in the difficulties my son is currently experiencing.

My son’s name is Steven Neary. He is 26 years old and has autism and severe learning disabilities. You may have come across his case.

A brief, potted history is as follows: In September 2012, the council made a decision that led to Steven becoming homeless. That decision was later judged to be unlawful by an Upper Tier Tribunal Judge. Unfortunately that decision came too late to prevent Steven losing his home. In November 2013, Steven was placed in “temporary secure accommodation” and has been there ever since. Quite unexpectedly, this house turned out to be ideal for Steven and I readily acknowledge that for the first two years of his habitation here, I made no attempt to bid for alternative properties.

By the way, I am Steven’s court appointed property and affairs deputy and it is my role to make best interest decisions under the Mental Capacity Act relating to matters of Steven’s housing.

Quite by chance in February this year, we discovered that Steven’s house (in fact, the entire Street) is due to be demolished early 2017 to make way for redevelopment. My immediate response was to contact Housing to seek advice. The response was rather dispiriting and I was simply advised, as non priority, to start bidding for permanent properties via Locata.

For support, I engaged an experienced Housing advocate, who immediately contacted the Housing department suggested a series of pathways to secure Steven long term accommodation. That was in March and six months later, we still haven’t received replies to several of the advocate’s suggestions. At the same time, supported by several national reports into the subject that being forced to engage in a bidding process is discrimatory to learning disabled people, we have tried to get the council to exercise it’s prerogative of using the direct allocation process to find Steven a home.

Since April I have bid for six properties. It is important to Steven that his new home is in Cowley. The location impacts in so many ways on his well being and the stability of his care package. I’m sure you have on record, the report from the court appointed psychiatrist in 2011 when the court were considering the unlawful deprivation of Steven’s liberty. The report states, “Any future changes to Steven’s care must be managed sensitively and timely to avoid increasing Steven’s anxiety and potentially his behaviours”. This statement has been at the forefront of my mind as I’ve tried to engage with the bidding process. To be brutally frank, I have found this process completely autism unfriendly throughout. I have been unable to include Steven in the process as I would like, or indeed, as is expected of me under the MCA core principles. To try and engage a person with autism in a process that is founded on uncertainty and randomness is beyond cruel and would certainly trigger the worst case scenario that Dr Robertson warned against in his report.

On 7th July, after weeks of nothing suitable being available on Locata, I bid for a property in Farrier Close. To be totally candid, it was a desperation bid. I knew from the outset that the location would leave several important boxes for Steven’s well being unticked.

The following day, 8th July, I received an email stating that, through the direct allocation process, Steven had been allocated a two bedroom first floor flat in the new build at Packet Boat Lane. It was perfect, even more ideal than Steven’s current residence. We were told a handover would happen during w/c 15th August.

Once again, through a flukey coincidence rather than by design, I discovered last week that the Packet Boat Lane property is on hold for ” the foreseeable future”. Despite numerous requests, nobody has been able to tell me why  or when, thus limiting my opportunity to make an informed decision on how to proceed.

Yesterday, I was invited to a viewing of the flat in Farrier Close. The flat itself was fine but my reservations about the location persisted. I was told that Steven was number 1 on the bidding list, so the pressure increased. Ultimately, I decided to decline the offer, prefering to wait for the new build to be available.

One thing yesterday epitomised the disparity in this process to me. The council have had 50 days to arrange the viewing. I was given 90 minutes to make a decision. There was no time to include Steven in making the decision and I can’t begin to describe how uncomfortable that makes me feel. Does the council have an Autism policy? Is it rolled out across all council services? Where does the Care Act fit into these processes?

I have decided to gamble. Because the Packet Boat Lane flat meets so many of Steven’s needs, it feels foolish to keep random bidding for properties that don’t come anywhere near the new build. Obviously, if one comes up that is as appropriate as the Packet Boat flat, then I will bid on Steven’s behalf.

What am I asking from you? I’d like to see a closer working between Steven, myself, the social care team and housing. I’d like to see more transparency so that I can make proper informed decisions. More than anything, I’d like to see Steven’s specific needs recognised and the appropriate laws applied to make this process as anxiety reduced as possible for Steven. As your predecessor said to the BBC in 2011, “We strive to put Steven at the heart of any decisions related to his care”.

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely

Mark Neary.

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From → Social Care

11 Comments
  1. Jayne knight permalink

    Have you sent it?
    Bloody great letter

  2. Cathy B permalink

    It’s sometimes hard to remember this is real, not a convoluted, painfully unfunny, ‘comedy’ sketch.

    ‘Joined-Up Government’, huh? It may be joined up (stiched up like a kipper?), but the stuffing (between the ears?) is missing.

    I feel like Hillingdon are playing a long game of Whack-a-Mole with you. This isn’t the sort of local government I worked so hard for. I don’t recognise this country anymore.

    If it’s any help, you made the right call turning down an unsuitable property.

    I hope commonsense and natural human compassion visit Hillingdon today. Good luck and best wishes.

  3. exactly , all partners involved are required in law to be providing personalised information appropriate to Steven’s needs . What Steven needs to know about a potential settled home via direct allocation and when he needs that information. Proportionality of information every time for every applicant everywhere. Keep holding them accountable, it really helps other people find their way.

  4. Shirley Buckley permalink

    Dont forget to send it RECORDED DELIVERY

  5. Great letter, sad you had to write it, good luck!

  6. Mr Trebus permalink

    What a brilliant letter! Genuine, open but also clear about what’s required. Good luck!a

  7. Cathy Hodge permalink

    address it as Private & Confidential.
    Then he has to open it himself.
    If possible, have it delivered by courier.
    And get a receipt for delivery.
    Its a bit expensive, but worth it.
    Good luck & best wishes.

  8. Sally permalink

    This is a wonderful letter. Clear, reasonable, unarguable.
    Yes, recorded delivery. And if you hear from a flunky that “he will consider”, no ,what am I thinking “the matter will be considered/we will consider” send another letter also recorded delivery asking when.
    It is so obvious to ask about the Autism policy and a brilliant move. Yes, the emtire bidding process discriminates heavily against people,with learning disabilities and is catastrophic for people with autism.
    The models used presuppose that all clients are .neurotypical. Oh, they might need some support-hopefully via a charity-but otherwise there are no problems.
    A small somewhat related example. My son had all help stopped last year.Direct payments , special needs activities, the works. All the local children on the DCT books were reviewed-and most were dropped in this way..
    Very well, we have a pile of assessments and opinions from clinicians, educators and socials service socials workers arguing that he urgently needs help and wanting the DCT to reinstate this.
    I have just had another (temporary) DCT worker contact to say that the decisions about his provision can’t be reviewed until she talks to him “About his goals and hopes for the future and difficulties” .
    What will happen :My son will be frightened of the new person and terrified that he is somehow in trouble. He will be very upset to be asked about problems and has no language to convey them. He will mumble a rude word and run from the room. If asked what he wants he will probably ask for rollerskates (he hasn’t the mobility to begin to manage this but firmly believes that if he had them he will be able to. )
    My fear is that out of this contact we wil get a part payment towards a pair of rollerskates. Nothing else.

  9. simone aspis permalink

    why not hand it in personally so that Tony understands that there are human beings behind this faceless community care and housing allocation system

  10. Sarah Lund permalink

    Special needs and suitable housing, have to match up. Otherwise there’s no point and it’s only wasting yours and your son’s time. Housing associations are only interested in the rent money. They don’t give two hoots about the people living in them. I’ve learnt my lesson from trying supported housing. The supported housing staff were abysmal. I won’t bother saying which mental health charity they work for, but just glad to be free of them now. I am now back in the residential home that the council tried ripping me away from.

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