August 2019: This chapter was amended to include links to good practice from the RSPCA and HM Government codes of practice.
The National Assistance Act 1948 placed a duty on local authorities to provide temporary protection of property including pets for people experiencing an unplanned admission to hospital or residential care and enables the local authority to recover all reasonable costs from the person. There is no duty to provide protection during planned hospital admission. The Law Commission published a report in 2011 upholding this duty but clarifying that it only applies as a last resort and should not place an undue burden on the local authority.
The Care Act 2014 reiterated this duty but did not challenge the ruling of the Law Commission, which still stands. The Care Act also enables the local authority to recover all reasonable costs from the person.
The Mental Health Act 1983 Code of Practice (revised 2015) states that ‘Where relevant, AMHP’s should ensure that practical arrangements are made for the care of any pets and for the Local Authority to carry out its other duties under the Care Act 2014 to secure the patients’ home and secure their property.’
There is no duty to provide protection during planned hospital admission. This policy sets out how Hull City Council expects staff to discharge this duty.
2. When the Duty comes into Effect
The duty comes into effect when:
- Someone with care and support needs experienced an unplanned admission to hospital or residential/respite care; and
- Because of the nature of the admission, they have been unable to make suitable arrangements for the protection of their property or the care of their pets; and
- Consent is obtained. Please see Section 3, Consent below.
Only if all three conditions are met does the duty come into effect.
The third condition for taking action is consent. If the person is able, consent should be sought prior to taking any steps. If the person lacks capacity to consent, the duty to safeguard property falls to any deputy, attorney or close family member provided that they are willing and able to do this. If they are not willing or able, their consent should be sought for a local authority worker to take reasonable steps to protect the person’s property. If the person has capacity to consent but withholds it, any risks must be explained but their wishes must be respected. The worker must record the fact that the risks to property were explained and that consent to safeguard was not given. If the person can’t give consent and there is no deputy or attorney, the worker must be able to demonstrate that it is in the person’s best interest that action be taken.
4. Role of the Local Authority Worker
The worker appointed to safeguard the property and pets of someone experiencing an unplanned admission should attend the property as soon as possible in the company of a second person. If there is an environmental risk to the workers, appropriate protective clothing must be worn. The workers must assess the risk to the person’s property and take the least intrusive action necessary to reduce the risk to an acceptable level. Examples of such actions may include:
- Making sure doors and windows (where possible) are locked;
- Turning off gas and electrical appliances and considering the need to turn gas, electricity and water at the mains. N.B. if the person has food stored in the freezer or has a heated fish tank it may not be practicable to turn the electricity off at the mains;
- Informing the police that the property is unoccupied and asking them to keep it under surveillance;
- Disposing of foodstuffs likely to perish to the point of becoming hazardous before the date the person is expected to return home;
- Removing any cash or readily portable valuables (such as jewellery) which is visible or which the person has asked to have safeguarded to a place of safety;
- Taking an inventory of cash and valuables (including any keys) which are to be removed to a place of safety. Both staff members must sign this inventory.
- Removing any pets to a place of safety;
- Informing the mortgage provider, landlord and utilities providers if there is likely to be an interruption in the person’s payment schedule.
The workers must demonstrate respect and sensitivity to the person’s privacy, and only take such steps as are reasonably necessary to prevent or mitigate loss or damage to the person’s property.
Ensuring the security of a person’s property is an ongoing responsibility and periodic checks must be made
If the person has pets, every effort must be made to identify a relative, friend or neighbour who can care for them. If there is no one available to do this, low / no cost solutions should be sought. The Cinnamon Trust or a local animal welfare charity may be able to provide a volunteer to care for the animal and should be contacted first. If no other option is available, a placement should be made in a cattery or kennels at the owner’s expense. The Care Act makes it clear that where possible, the owner should fund the cost of the care of their pet.
If the owner is unable to pay the full cost, the local authority may be able to fund or part fund this for a limited period where there is a clear intention for the owner to return home. This should normally be for no more than six weeks and should be agreed by the team manager. If, during this period the animal needs the care of a vet it should be taken to the vet of the owner’s choice if the owner is able to pay the vet’s fee or to the PDSA if the owner is only able to make a small contribution. In all cases, the owner is responsible for paying the fee or contribution. If funding is required beyond the initial six weeks, the team manager can agree it for a further six weeks but beyond this, it becomes ‘an undue burden on the local authority’ (Law Commission 2011), as well as giving rise to concern about the animal’s welfare and only in truly exceptional cases, should funding continue. The person must be made aware that funding will cease and unless they are able to identify an alternative, rehoming should be sought for the animal.
6. Person remains in Permanent Care
If the person is admitted to permanent residential care, there are a number of animal welfare charities who will seek to rehome the animal (see Appendix 1: Organisations who may Rehome an Animal).
The person or their representative should be consulted regarding the return of any cash or valuables kept in a place of safety by the local authority. If the person lacks mental capacity and there is no one appointed to represent them, any decisions taken regarding their property must be made via the Best Interest Decision Making process as set out in the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
The person or their representative must also be consulted about the payment of any outstanding utility bills, mortgage or rent and they should terminate any tenancy. If the person does not have the capacity to do this and does not have a representative, the protocol for ending the tenancy of people who lack capacity must be followed.
7. Upon the Death of the Person
If the person dies, there are a number of animal welfare charities who will seek to rehome the animal (see Appendix 1: Organisations who may Rehome an Animal). Any costs incurred by the local authority should be charged against the person’s estate.
Any cash or valuable must be returned to the executor of the person’s estate who must be asked to sign the original inventory to verify that all property held in safe keeping has been returned. If the person dies intestate with no next of kin, the worker should inform the Transactional Finance Officer at Hull City Treasury who will advise how to proceed.