A council has been ordered to pay almost £20,000 in care home fees after it “wasted time” arguing over who was responsible for funding a vulnerable woman’s care.
The dispute meant Hackney council took too long to assess the woman and under-funded months’ worth of her care fees, the Local Government Ombudsman found.
The woman, who had dementia, moved into a care home in a different borough in September 2014, initially for a period of respite, after her daughter became unable to cope. The daughter later decided she would be unable to support her mother back at home, and with her seeming settled in the care home, asked Hackney council to reassess her needs.
The investigation found that a dispute broke out between Hackney council and the local authority where the care home was located about who should fund the woman’s care.
The second council argued that the woman was still a Hackney resident and should therefore be assessed by them. The ombudsman found that no one accepted responsibility for funding the woman’s care and she was left for 10 months without being assessed.
Hackney council eventually agreed to fund the placement from October 2015, but this still meant there was a significant sum of unpaid care home fees.
The ombudsman concluded that the council should pay for the fees between November 2014 and October 2015, which amounted to £19,898, and pay the family’s solicitor fees.
The council has accepted the ombudsman’s recommendations.
‘Out of desperation’
The woman moved in with her daughter after being discharged from hospital in early 2014. She was supported by two carers and a home care package of four calls a day.
In September 2014, the daughter was struggling to cope with her caring commitments and her own ill-health, and made a private arrangement for her mother to go into the out-of-area care home for a temporary period of respite.
The daughter claimed that she had informed Hackney council of this change, but the ombudsman’s investigation found no evidence to support this.
The investigation also found that the daughter picked this care home because she knew the owner, and the arrangement had been “borne out of desperation”.
Two months later, the daughter decided that she would not feel able to care for her mother if she returned to live with her, and contacted Hackney about financial assistance for residential care. She was told to contact the council where the care home was located.
The ombudsman’s investigation found that between December 2014 and January 2015, there was correspondence between the two councils about who was responsible for assessing the woman and funding her care, and both sought legal advice. Neither would accept responsibility and Hackney did not allocate a social worker to do the assessment.
In May 2015, the second council wrote to Hackney asking it to carry out a social care assessment. This council said it believed that the woman remained “ordinarily resident” in Hackney, and Hackney was therefore responsible for funding her care.
It also warned that it would refer the case to the secretary of state for health if Hackney did not accept responsibility.
Under the Care Act 2014, a council is only required to meet the needs of an adult who is ‘ordinarily resident’ in their area. Any disputes about this must be decided by the health secretary, and should be referred within four months of when they started.
The ombudsman said it was not its role to determine the woman’s ordinary residence, but that Hackney council should have referred the case to the secretary of state for a decision, because the two councils had failed to resolve the dispute within four months.
In August 2015, a Hackney council social worker carried out an assessment of the woman, the investigation found. This determined that she was eligible for social care services and needed significant support with nutrition, personal care and staying safe.
The council agreed to fund the woman’s placement at the care home from October 2015, but this still left a significant amount of unpaid fees, the investigation found. The family complained to the council via a solicitor, before referring the case to the ombudsman.
The investigation concluded that Hackney was at fault because it failed to assess the woman within an appropriate timescale and refer the case to the secretary of state, which had caused financial loss.
“Had the assessment been completed when it should have been, the council would have taken over funding the placement from the end of November 2014,” the report said.
The ombudsman said it was not clear why the daughter had failed to tell Hackney council about placing her mother in the care home for respite, and said he was “sympathetic” with Hackney’s view that the daughter had not been open about her actions. However, this did not excuse its later failure to take timely action, the report added.
The report said Hackney had also given “no cogent reasons” for its refusal to backdate the funding for the care home, which amounted to further fault.
Michael King, the local government and social care ombudsman, said: “It is imperative that people in need are assessed in a timely fashion. And if there are any doubts about that person’s residency, it should be referred to the Secretary of State to decide.
“Hackney’s delay in assessing this woman’s needs left a family with the uncertainty of not knowing whether the council would foot the bill for her care. It should not have taken both a solicitor’s letter and my investigation for the council to recognise its duties towards her.
“The council has agreed to my recommendations and I hope other councils will learn from this complaint and ensure staff are aware of their proper duties when assessing care needs.”
A spokesperson for Hackney council said: “We fully accept the Local Government Ombudsman’s recommendations and findings and have already taken action as requested.
“Lessons have been learnt to ensure that there are ongoing discussions with loved ones in situations like this and we urge people to let us know of any change to their circumstances and when they arise.”