Kent council has been reprimanded for charging people for home care services before assessing their finances, in breach of government guidance.
The Local Government Ombudsman found that the council operated a policy of provisionally charging people £39 per week for non-residential care services to cover the period between services starting and a financial assessment being completed.
The policy, which ran from April 2011 to December 2012, contravenes government guidance on charging for non-residential services, which states that charges should not be made for any period before a financial assessment has been completed and the service user informed in writing of their assessed charges.
The policy led to a complaint to the ombudsman concerning Mrs B, a woman in her 90s, who was offered a long-term home care package after a hospital stay caused by a broken pelvis. The council began billing her for home care from 30 January 2012 even though her financial assessment had not been completed and she was not informed of the outcome and resulting charges until 31 March, by which time the total cost had reached £380.
Under the policy, charges for the provisional period would not be collected until after the financial assessment had been completed and not imposed in full if the person was assessed as liable for a charge of under £39 per week. However, the ombudsman found it in breach of statutory guidance.
“Government policy is clear on the matter of provisional charging for care services,” said Nigel Ellis, the ombudsman’s executive director for investigations. “It explicitly states that no charge should be applied before the user has been told about the assessment of those charges.”
The ombudsman said the council should cancel the charges faced by Mrs B, pay £200 compensation to her son for the time he spent making the complaint and repay all others affected under the policy.
Graham Gibbens, the cabinet member for adult services and public health at Kent, said: “We introduced the provisional charging policy for home care services in good faith. We believe the government guidance about care charging is unclear. However, we have now withdrawn provisional charging in response to recommendations by the Local Government Ombudsman and have agreed to refund all those affected between April 2011 and December 2012 by this policy.”
Those who believe that they are due a refund as a result of Kent’s policy should call 0300 333 6249.