A service user was caused “distress and confusion” after a council failed to properly inform him about the new charges of his care package, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has said.
Staffordshire council did not “promptly or clearly” inform Mr B, the service user, about increases to his care package cost after a new assessment was made, which meant his personal contribution increased by almost £70 per week.
This resulted in the service user running up a bill of almost £1,000, which he felt he should not be expected to pay because of the council’s lack of communication in relaying the information. Mr B argued he would have reduced the number of hours of the care package to save money, if he had known about the increased charges.
Staffordshire council also confused the service user by sending him letters which “did not apply to his situation”, the ombudsman said.
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Staffordshire council also confused the service user by sending him letters which “did not apply to his situation”.
New financial assessment needed
Mr B received a care package from the council, which included four visits by carers each day. This cost £190.73 per week of which Mr B contributed £110.39.
On 1 December 2016, Mr B received a letter from his borough council, on behalf of Staffordshire council, informing him that a new financial assessment was needed.
The assessment was completed the following week, with the council officer concluding Mr B was to pay a contribution of £181.82 towards his care. This represented an increase of around £70, with the officer also noting that this was ‘subject to mitigation rules’.
Despite conducting a new assessment, the council continued to charge Mr B his previous personal contribution rate, rather than the new amount. Mr B also complained the council officer did not provide him with a copy of the completed financial assessment summary.
Later in December, the council wrote to Mr B, along with 361 other households, saying some assessments carried out on or after 4 July 2016 were incorrect as the officer was given the wrong instructions.
The council apologised and said it would arrange a repeat financial assessment to check if people’s contributions were correct. In March 2017, the council wrote to Mr B again, saying it had recalculated his care charge to £181.82 and that this applied from December 2016. However, this was the same amount as calculated during the financial assessment.
The letter continued to say Mr B had underpaid his care charges from December and the arrears would be included in his next bill.
Mr B got in touch with the council to ask for more information about his charges and the repayment, but did not hear back. He also queried whether the council’s mitigation arrangements had been applied to his charges and asked why it had taken the council so long to notify him of the new charge.
Council confirms care charges
Staffordshire council wrote to Mr B later in March 2017, informing him that his charge would now be £150.39, not £181.82, and this would apply from December 2016. It explained this was after a mitigation of £40 had been applied to the original charge of £110.39.
The council added the account would be corrected for between December 2016 to March 2017.
In response to the increase in his care charges, Mr B reduced the number of carer visits as part of his care package.
The council then wrote to Mr B saying this had reduced his weekly charge to £108.99 and the revised amount Mr B owed for the period when he underpaid his charges was £921.56.
In April 2017, the council sent a letter to all people who had previously expressed concerns about its handling of financial assessments of couples, which was also sent to Mr B. The council said it had no alternative but to recalculate charges for couples and backdate these charges to July 2016.
In a follow up letter in May, Staffordshire council said it had reviewed this decision and had now decided not to backdate the charges.
Staffordshire council then wrote to Mr B in June 2017 confirming that his weekly charge from December 2016 was £150.39 and his current charge, since his care package was reduced, was £108.89.
In response to a complaint made by Mr B about his charges, Staffordshire council said it still required the new charge to be paid from the date of the financial assessment.
No information about charge increase
The ombudsman found Staffordshire council was at fault for how it handled Mr B’s financial assessment in December 2016.
It discovered the council “failed to tell Mr B about the increase or charge the increased amount” until March 2017, meaning he did not know his contribution had increased and resulted in him running up a care charge debt.
Staffordshire council was also found to have failed to apply its mitigation policy to Mr B’s financial assessment until the service user raised the problem with the council. This was despite the financial assessment form stating Mr B’s new weekly charge was subject to mitigation rules.
The ombudsman concluded the council should not ask Mr B to repay the full amount he owed, but acknowledged he had received extra care services as a result of not having his package reduced.
It also found the council was at fault for incorrectly writing to Mr B in April and May 2017. It said the letters were not relevant to Mr B because when the council reviewed his financial assessment in March it “did not result in any changes to his contribution”.
Staffordshire council agreed to reduce the care charges owed by Mr B for between December 2016 and March 2017. This meant Mr B would be asked to pay only half of the total care charge. The council also agreed to pay Mr B a financial remedy of £150 in recognition of the “distress and uncertainty” he suffered.