Council criticised after assessment failings left service user overcharged for care

The Local Government Ombudsman says a further 63 older people may be entitled to a refund from Solihull Council following its investigation

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Solihull council overcharged a service user for the cost of his care after failing to apply the means test for care contributions correctly, the Local Government Ombudsman has found.

Another 63 clients may have been affected by the council’s incorrect financial assessments.

The means test is where a person’s finances and assets are looked at to decide how much they should contribute towards the cost of their care. Currently, if people are eligible for support and have between £14,250 and £23,250, the council will contribute towards their care costs. If a person’s capital and savings is above £23,250, they have to fund all of their own care.

In this case, Solihull council carried out a financial assessment for Mr X in 2014 and decided that he had to pay the full cost of his care as he and Mrs X jointly held capital of over £23,250.

The council took into account Mr and Mrs X’s joint capital, rather than Mr X’s share of it, because there was evidence that the couple pooled their resources.

‘Excluded from support’

Mr Y, complaining on Mr X’s behalf, said Mr X had under £23,250 in his savings and joint accounts and should therefore not be made to pay the full costs towards his care. He told the council Mr X would not pay his care charges until the complaint was resolved.

The ombudsman found the council to be at fault because government guidance on fairer charging for home care and non-residential services states that jointly held savings should be treated as divided equally between a couple.

The guidance also states: “…the resident must have in excess of £23,250 in his own right, or his share of jointly owned capital must be in excess of £23,250 before he is excluded from support on the grounds of capital”.

Solihull council should have therefore only taken account of half Mr and Mrs X’s jointly shared capital, before applying the £23,250 limit. The ombudsman’s investigation also uncovered a further 63 people in the borough who may have been similarly affected.

The council maintains that it interpreted the government guidance correctly, but acknowledged its own fairer charging policy for non-residential care services, which took effect in November 2013, did not clearly state its interpretation of the regulations.

The council has decided not to recover Mr X’s outstanding care charges of £3,341.99, which ensures Mr X has not been overcharged for his care, and has offered a payment of £200 to Mr and Mrs X to acknowledge the time and trouble taken to resolve the matter.

It has also agreed to review the financial assessments of the 63 affected service users carried out between November 2013 and March 2015 to determine if they have been overcharged for the contributions to their care. The ombudsman has said that if any of these service users have been overcharged, the council should offer a full refund.

‘Findings accepted’

A spokesperson for Solihull council said: “We accept the findings and recommendations of the Local Government Ombudsman’s report and have already begun to contact those who may be affected. We are reviewing each case and will make any repayment if necessary.”

The council has also changed its fairer charging policy to take into account new measures set out in the Care Act 2014. The legislation provides that service users should be assessed as individuals. The act also introduced changes to the means test for social care, which will see the capital limit rise to £118,000, but these have been delayed until April 2020.

Jane Martin, the Local Government Ombudsman, said: “We always consider whether action should be taken to help the council avoid similar problems affecting others in the future. However, when our investigation uncovers other people who may have already suffered as a result of the faults found, we can ask councils to review those cases too.

“I am pleased Solihull council has accepted my recommendations, and has already identified and acted upon the changes it needed to make in light of the new Care Act.”

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