Councils could face bills of thousands of pounds in repayments after illegally charging for reablement services.
Such services fall under the legal definition of intermediate care, which must be provided free of charge for the first six weeks.
“As there is no legal basis for the imposition of charges, it follows that councils are likely to have no defence to a claim for return of monies already paid by service users for these services,” said Ed Mitchell, Community Care’s legal expert.
Southend-on-sea Council confirmed charging for reablement services had raised £10,106 in 2009-10 alone.
One council almost faced legal action for charges in March this year when a client was being charged for a short-term package of care after leaving hospital.
Cate Searle, community care lawyer at Martin Searle Solicitors in Brighton, who represented the service user, said she would have sought a judicial review of the council’s policy but changes in the person’s circumstances meant the case could not be brought.
Ruth Cartwright, the British Association of Social Workers’ joint manager for England, said she hoped councils who were charging would be proactive in seeking out service users and reimbursing them. However, she said she feared it would take a test case to force councils to repay users.
York Council said it would be looking to see if anyone had been charged inappropriately and would reimburse them.