Council reduces funds owed by service user after investigation

Local government ombudsman said council failed to give adequate notice of 10-fold rise in service user’s contributions to the cost of his care

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Photo: Tang90246/Fotolia

By Katherine Purvis

A council has reduced the funds owed by a service user receiving domiciliary care by almost £2,700, following an investigation into service failure and maladministration.

Southwark failed to give adequate notice of a 10-fold increase in the contributions the man – Mr C – had to make towards his care, found the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

Mr C, who was living with his son, Mr B, was paying £80 a week to help cover the cost of four visits a day by two carers, set out in his support plan after a council assessment.

But after a fairer contribution policy was introduced in September 2015, which allowed Southwark to change the basis on which it charged for care, Mr C’s payments increased to £700 a week due to private capital he held. Mr C and his son did not receive a letter the council wrote to all service users to inform them of their new contributions from April 2016.

Mr B raised the complaint on behalf of his father after the council contacted Mr C again in mid-July to remind him of the increase in monthly direct debit payments, and inform him that nearly £10,000 would be taken from his account to cover back payments from April. By the time Mr C moved into residential care in mid-October, the council said his unpaid contributions had reached £17,000.

After requesting a reassessment of his care needs, Mr C’s contributions were reduced to £588.42 per week.

Notice

The ombudsman found a delay in telling Mr C about the increase in direct debit payments, and the council has accepted that it should have given notice that the new policy would mean his contributions would increase.

In his complaint, Mr B claimed carers often attended when they had been told that Mr C was at a day centre. He also alleged that the homecare provider, Care Direct, did not always send two carers to visit his father, but falsified care logs to say two care workers had attended and charged as such.

The council investigated this and concluded it was poor practice, but it was “not possible to say that only one carer had attended”. The ombudsman said Southwark had “carried out a proportionate investigation given the difficulties of investigating the allegations that were not made at the time”.

To resolve the complaint, the ombudsman and Southwark council agreed the council would remove £2,677.92 from Mr C’s account, the sum that would not have been due had the revised care package been in place from 11 April.

“Our fairer contribution policy helps to ensure our residents are charged fairly for the services they receive, in line with government guidelines,” Cllr Richard Livingstone, cabinet member for adult social care and inclusion, told Community Care.

“In this unusual case, the increase in fees for the resident was very large, and we have taken on board the recommendation from the ombudsman that we could have gone further in communicating this change to him. We are pleased that this matter has now been resolved.”

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