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.
From → Social Care