Councils have been warned that they face having care cuts reversed in the courts after a second authority was ordered to review a decision to freeze fees for care providers.
Leicestershire Council had its decision to freeze fees quashed by Leeds Administrative Court last week on the grounds that it had not taken into account the costs of care facing providers, less than a month after the same fate befell Sefton Council.
Like Sefton, Leicestershire Council was also told that it had it failed to properly consult with care providers or adequately assess the risk of its decision to care homes and to residents.
The case was brought by the East Midlands Care Association (Emcare) body after the council failed to increase fees paid to independent care home providers in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland in April, for the second year running. The association claimed that this had followed 10 years in which fee rises had failed to match inflation.
Following the verdict, English Community Care Association chief executive Martin Green said: “This victory should serve as a warning to all local authorities that if they continue to behave in a dictatorial way, with no regard for the true costs of care, they will find themselves in court and be judged as acting illegally.”
Under the Department of Health’s 1992 Choice of Accommodation Directions, councils should be able to show that the “usual cost” they pay for care is enough to meet assessed care needs.
Emcare said it had brought evidence in January that the council’s fees fell far short of the cost of care in the region, based on an analysis by experts Laing & Buisson. However, Leicestershire Council said there was insufficient time to carry out a review of fees, before deciding to freeze rates in March of this year.
A Leicestershire Council spokesperson said: “In the extremely challenging financial climate facing the council, most care providers understood the reasons for the decision, but Emcare challenged it in court.
“The judge has quashed the council’s decision, which means it must be considered again and a new decision taken. The judge did not decide that the decision itself was wrong and said that ‘the actual decision not to increase fees may well be one which can be supported by a number of factors’. The council will now consult with providers of residential care and with EMCARE and ensure that the revised decision complies with the court’s judgement. Any possible increase in fees will be backdated.”
Emcare chair Allison Cowley said she was determined to continue a “collaborative working relationship with the council, not only in the resolution of determining a fair price for care, but also in the ongoing development of services, which will ensure that the changing needs of our ageing population are properly catered for”.
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