Town Hall to review bereavement support after apologising for treatment of grieving mother

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Council.

Islington Council are to put out an information leaflet for bereaved families following complaints of a “lack of support and information” from a grieving mother.

The woman, known only as Ms C, complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) over the handling of her deceased son’s estate, with the watchdog finding that the mother was given confusing information.

She also experienced delays in the finalising of her son’s account and complained that the officer handling the case “was cold and lacked compassion”, though on this point the LGSCO was unable to establish exactly what happened in meetings between the council and Ms C as accounts differ.

The report reads: “There are clearly differing versions of what took place in the exchanges between Ms C and the council officer. As such, I am unable to come to a view to what extent, if at all, the council lacked compassion in its contacts with her.

“From the information I have seen, the council provided an appropriate level of support to Ms C. However, it failed to provide some information about the cost of funerals, for which it has already apologised.”

Ms C’s son, who had lived in council-provided supported accommodation, died in February 2018, after which the Town Hall were appointed to manage his benefits.

While she was initially told that her son’s estate would cover any funeral costs up to £4,000, she was later told that this did not include the cost of funeral cars, meaning she had to come up with £275 herself despite the costs falling within the £4,000 limit.

The council has apologised for not informing Ms C what funeral costs could not be included.

The grieving mother further complained that the breakdown of what was left of her son’s finances was “very confusing”.

The council are quoted in the report as explaining that they provided Ms C with a “provisional document” which was undated and unsigned as she had not yet been granted probate (the legal right to deal with her son’s estate), acknowledging that its incompleteness meant it should not have been sent.

The report continues: “Once Ms C got grant of probate, the council could have a much more open dialogue with her.

“The officer had booked a private room for her meeting with Ms C in April 2018. However, the meeting over-ran and they had to leave the room and continue the meeting outside.

“The council told Ms C it was sorry if she felt upset or inconvenienced by that interruption. At the end of the conversation, the officer referred Ms C to Citizen’s Advice or a solicitor for independent advice.

“The officer’s intention was to help Ms C, as she wanted to understand her son’s estate.”

The Town Hall has now said it plans to review how information is provided to bereaved families, with retraining for staff planned where necessary, with reminders over clear advice to relatives about funeral costs and estate administration.

As well as her apology, Ms C has also been offered a payment of £200 as a remedy for faults including a delay in completing a review of two benefit overpayments.

The LGSCO decided not to investigate Ms C’s further complaint that “according to her, there are indications the council has mismanaged her son’s finances and that considerable sums of money have gone missing”, advising that she first complain to the council on this issue in the first instance before the ombudsman can investigate.

The LGSCO further advises Ms C to meet the council in person to discuss questions relating to the final statement of her son’s account, though notes that she “would prefer a response in writing because she is a pensioner grieving for her son and she would feel very intimidated and uncomfortable with such a meeting”.