Councils have been reminded to check their care charging procedures, after two North Yorkshire families paid over the odds for their relatives’ care.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found that North Yorkshire council provided the families with inaccurate information that caused them to pay significantly more for care services.
In the first incident, the council’s actions were judged to be “confused and confusing” as they misinformed a woman, Mrs C, about the charges for her mother’s (Mrs D) care.
The report states that the council failed to offer Mrs D any care provision within her personal budget and to find her a placement that did not include a top-up fee, therefore failing to act in line with section 30 of the Care Act.
The second family were left without an affordable option when trying to place their mother into a care home. As a result, they were forced to accept a placement which required a top-up. North Yorkshire council also failed to enter into a top-up agreement with the family of the service user, with the ombudsman stating that it shouldn’t have placed Mrs B in Nursing Home X without an agreement in place.
In both cases, the families faced a “much larger” bill than they might have paid had they been given accurate and timely information.
The council also failed to offer affordable solutions to their care service problems and the families were told to make top-up fee arrangements with their respective care homes, contrary to statutory guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Social Care:
“Where a local authority is meeting needs by arranging a care home, it is responsible for contracting with the provider. It is also responsible for paying the full amount, including where a top-up fee is being paid.”
Michael King, local government and social care ombudsman said: “These two cases highlight exactly why councils need to give families clear and accurate information upfront about the financial arrangements, the care available and its cost when placing relatives in care settings.
“[This month] the Care Quality Commission published details of its survey, which found that choosing care for loved ones is one of the most stressful life events for people. This stress can only be compounded when councils offer confusing and conflicting information at crucial times in the process.
“I would urge councils’ adult social care teams to read our 2015 top-up fee Focus Report and review their own policies to ensure they meet the demands of the Care Act.”
In the first case, the council has agreed to apologise to the family and refund the woman’s estate the top-up fee for 10 months.
On the back of this review, the council has agreed to review other cases, where there is a deferred payment agreement and a top-up, to ensure there is also a top-up agreement in place.
It has also agreed to apologise to the second family and will pay them £500 for the “time and trouble” it has put them through.
In addition, the council will refund £50 per week of the top-up paid by Mrs B’s daughter (Mrs A) for her mother’s care and waive this from future payments until it reviews the placement.