A council will pay thousands of pounds to the family of a woman with dementia after an investigation found “systemic fault” with the way her care was arranged.
The Local Government Ombudsman found Dudley council had wrongly left the family to pay a £50 weekly top-up fee towards a care home placement, without offering them alternative care options.
Dudley and Walsall Mental Health Partnership Trust made the placement on behalf of the council in February 2015. The ombudsman found no evidence that any other placement that would not require a top-up fee was made available for the mother.
The watchdog found services had failed to act in line with statutory guidance that was in force at the time. This said an individual should not be charged a top-up fee unless they had expressed a preference for a care home that was more expensive than the council was prepared to fund.
The failings meant the woman had been denied “meaningful choice” over her care and support, and her family were left the paying top-up fees that they shouldn’t have had to for 20 months, the ombudsman found. The failure to provide the family with information about top-up fees caused an injustice, the report added.
The investigation heard the family had only initially agreed to pay the top-up fee because they thought it could be covered by the mother’s savings. They were later told this wasn’t the case, and in November 2015, told the council they could not afford the payments.
The trust said they would not support the family to keep their mother in the care home but would help them to move her to a cheaper placement. The family later escalated their complaint to the ombudsman.
Following the ombudsman’s investigation, Dudley council agreed to apologise to the family and refund the £4,628 top-up fees they had been charged. The council also agreed to review its procedures and similar cases.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Families can only make proper informed decisions about their relatives’ care if they are given the correct information. In this case, the family was only presented with one option – to pay a top-up fee – and no further details about their rights.”
King said he was “disappointed” that a problem around top-up fees still existed following an LGO report on the issue in 2015, adding: “I would urge other councils to check their own policies and procedures to ensure people in their areas are not similarly affected.”
A spokesperson for the council has accepted the report and its recommendations.
They added: “We will implement these carefully and have already sincerely apologised to the family involved and organised a refund of the top up fees they have paid to date. We are also part way through carrying out a review of our arrangements to ensure we improve the process for service users and their families and to avoid such incidents in the future.”