Council to investigate top-up fee use after critical ombudsman report

Ombudsman finds that a council incorrectly charged a family for their mother's care

Norfolk council has agreed to investigate whether more care home residents have been incorrectly charged a top-up fee, after a family were overcharged for their mother’s care.

According to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, the council failed to inform Mr C, the service user’s son, about top-up fees and overlooked his mother’s, Mrs B, true capital when charging the family for her care.

In the report, Mrs B’s social worker said she provided Mr C with two brochures and explained that, once his mother’s capital fell below the £23,250 threshold, the council would pay £460.71 a week towards his mother’s care. She also said that Mr C was informed about top-up fees during the same meeting. However, Mr C claimed that he did not receive the brochures and was not informed about top-up fees.

Without transparent information, Mr C looked to find a suitable home for his mother which cost in the region of £700-£825 a week, unaware that his mother’s indicative personal budget was just over £460. He claimed that he would not have placed his mother in a home that was not affordable if he had been given the correct information.

The council included Mrs B’s property in the financial assessment, despite statutory guidance stating that a council must disregard the value of a person’s home for twelve weeks when they first enter a care home as a permanent resident.

Under a duty

The result of disregarding the value of Mrs B’s home meant that her capital fell below £23,250, which the Ombudsman said placed a duty on the council under the Care Act 2014 to offer at least one residential care home option that was affordable within Mrs B’s personal budget for residential care homes.

The council failed to offer this and did not accept that it had a duty, wrongly arguing that the woman’s capital was above £23,250. Consequently, the local authority asked for a top-up fee during the initial twelve weeks while the house was being sold.

Following the Ombudsman’s recommendations, the council agreed to apologise to the family and pay Mr C £300. The local authority has also vowed to check if it had wrongly charged other people in the county.

A Norfolk Council spokesman said: “We acknowledge the distress and worry which was caused as a result of an error on our part and have apologised unreservedly.

“We fully respect the outcome of the Local Government Ombudsman investigation and have agreed to take action which the Ombudsman regards as providing a satisfactory remedy for the complaint.

“While we had already waived the top up fee, we will be putting in place new measures, including reviewing our guidance and training for staff to ensure lessons are learned.

“We will also be reviewing whether there have been similar cases, in the last 12 months. This review is underway and we will be reporting our findings to the LGO in in late spring/early summer.”

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Councils should not take into account the value of a person’s property when making assessments of people’s ability to pay for their care in a care home during the first twelve weeks of their stay.

“If this means a person’s capital falls below the threshold of £23,250, the council should offer an affordable care home that does not require a top-up fee.”

A running issue

In recent months, there have been a number of cases where councils have incorrectly charged families for social care services or have failed to provide clear information about accommodation costs. In particular, there has been confusion about the particulars of top-up fee agreements and when councils should ask for them.

Last month, the Ombudsman found that social workers from North Yorkshire failed to provide clear detail about social care fees relating to accommodation on two separate occasions.

In the first instance, the council’s actions were judged to be “confused and confusing” as they misinformed a woman about the charges for her mother’s care. In addition to providing incorrect personal budgets, North Yorkshire were unable to find a placement that did not include a top-up fee. It then failed to arrange a top-up agreement, resulting in the family paying more for their mother’s care.

In the second case, the same council failed to provide a family with an affordable option to move their mother into a nursing home which specialised in caring for people with dementia. Once again, the council was unable to secure a top-up agreement with the family.

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One Response to Council to investigate top-up fee use after critical ombudsman report

  1. John April 6, 2018 at 8:57 am #

    What was the council supposed to have done if they can’t source a placement with out a top up fee? That’s why Social Workers train, to use calculators in putting budgets together.