Council provided ‘insufficient and unclear’ information about accommodation, ombudsman finds

The local authority failed to offer the service user a suitable accommodation option after he had been forced to move out of a closing nursing home

An older person looking stressed
Image: Syda Productions

A service user’s wife was caused distress after a council failed to provide sufficient information about her husband’s care arrangements when he changed accommodation, a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman report has found.

Mrs C complained that her husband, Mr C, ended up in care accommodation that was much more expensive than his previous nursing home because East Sussex council did not offer him a suitable nursing home option when he was forced to move out of his previous home.

The council also gave Mrs C “insufficient and unclear” information about the financial implications of her husband’s alternative care arrangements when an agreement had been reached, creating a “devastating impact” on the couples’ finances.

East Sussex council agreed to the ombudsman’s recommendations and has apologised to the service user.

Unsuitable options 

Mr C has Parkinson’s disease and moved into a nursing home in November 2015; this was around 90 miles away from his home, where Mrs C, his wife, lived.

On 23 October 2017, Mrs C told the council the nursing home would be closing down on 17 November, meaning her husband would have to move to another suitable care home. She told the council that she wanted to know what would happen next, because she did not want her husband moving any further away.

The council carried out a review of Mr C’s needs the following day. Meanwhile, Mrs C told the council on 26 October she was keen for her husband to move to care provider X.

Read more from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman

East Sussex council advised Mrs C on 30 October that the costs for the care suites were different than those for a standard residential care home. It said the cost for the care suites consisted of an amount to be paid for accommodation as well as an amount to cover the cost of the care support. It added Mr C would not be eligible for housing benefit because he was a home owner.

The council offered a nursing home placement to Mr C as an alternative but Mrs C said it was too far for her to drive.

East Sussex argued the distance was on par with the home Mr C had to leave. But, she told the council the following day she would no longer be able to travel such distances, due to her age and health conditions.

‘Anxious and distressed’

Speaking with the ombudsman about the case, the council said Mrs C became “very anxious and distressed” about the home closure. Because of this, the council decided its proposed nursing home was no longer a suitable option. However, there were no alternatives at the time, meaning that all parties agreed for Mr C to move to care provider X.

Mrs C told the ombudsman she did not realise, at the time, the financial impact the move to this type of accommodation would have on their finances and only found out after the move her husband’s weekly contribution would more than double to £676 per week.

Council failures 

The council told the ombudsman that it provided information to Mrs C about housing benefit but failed to provide an estimate of the weekly cost of rent, service charges and other factors, such as food and drink. These costs were to be paid on top of the assessed contribution, which significantly increased the amount Mr C would have to pay towards his care.

The council added there was a delay in telling Mrs C of the outcome of a financial assessment carried out on 9 November 2017, because the visiting officer was unsure if the authority would continue to give up half of Mr C’s occupational pension.

East Sussex also said it failed to explain to Mrs C that it would take all of Mr C’s occupational pension into account when calculating how much he could contribute. This was because the placement was a non-residential assessment.

‘Best of intentions’

In response to the ombudsman’s enquires, the council said it made attempts to support Mr and Mrs C with the best of intentions. However, Mrs C received insufficient and unclear information in advance, about the financial implications of a placement for her husband at the care suite.

The ombudsman concluded the lack of information inhibited Mrs C from making a fully informed decision, when she had to decide where her husband should stay.

An ombudsman spokesperson said: “When making changes to people’s care placements, councils must ensure families are fully aware of the financial implications of any such move, and are provided with timely and accurate information.  This was something we highlighted in our 2015 focus report on charging for care.

“Unfortunately, in this case this did not happen. However, we are pleased with the way the council accepted responsibility for the problems caused and the steps it readily took to resolve the situation.”

Fee waived

After hearing the ombudsman’s recommendations, the council decided to waive the difference between the costs – £5,842 – that Mrs C incurred from the point Mr C moved to the care suite to when he moved into the nursing placement.

It has also offered Mrs C a payment of £200 in light of her distress and the time it took to bring the case to the ombudsman.

Finally, it agreed to inform all relevant staff about what information they should provide in respect of the care suites of care provider X.

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