Following a complaint from a close family member of Ms D (anonymised), the Ombudsman found that a formal capacity assessment was not carried out by Newport City Council for a period of almost four years between September 2013 and April 2017.

A capacity assessment should be undertaken when a person’s behaviour or circumstances cause doubt as to whether they have capacity to make a decision.

The council failed to act despite it identifying on five separate occasions that Ms D, who lived in sheltered accommodation, was vulnerable and did not understand basic money calculations.

The Ombudsman found that, when the Council was made aware that Ms D may have been exploited financially by local men, it did not make a safeguarding referral or investigate the concerns.

Concerns were also raised, by a family member and a professional associate who managed her finances, that she was at risk, but the council claimed the concerns were raised only to undermine Ms D’s capacity. There was no evidence provided to support that view and the Ombudsman concluded that Ms D’s welfare was at the heart of their concerns.

The council has agreed to implement a number of recommendations, including making a payment to Ms D of an agreed amount for not adequately assessing her need for financial safeguards, and making a further payment of £500 to the family member who made the complaint, in recognition of the distress caused by its failures.

Commenting on the report, Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, Nick Bennett, said:

“I am extremely concerned that a vulnerable woman was left to manage her own finances in a haphazard way which resulted in her depleting her bank account by thousands of pounds.

“Ms D was left exposed to exploitation for a significant period of time and, while it is not possible to say whether she was coerced into giving money away, she should not have been left in such a vulnerable position.

“I’m also disappointed by the council’s accusatory attitude towards those close to Ms D, who, in reality, were simply concerned about her welfare.”