Norfolk County Council (19 009 101)

Category : Adult care services > Charging

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 03 Jan 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr B complains the Council charged too much for the home care he received. The Ombudsman finds there is fault by the Council. The Council has agreed an appropriate remedy.

The complaint

  1. The complainant whom I refer to as Mr K complains the amount the Council charged him as a contribution to his home care was wrong. He said the carers stayed for no more than 10 minutes. He also says the Council delayed telling him how much it would cost.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the complaint and the copy correspondence provided by the complainant. I have made enquiries of the Council and considered the documents the Council provided. I have also considered Mr K’s comments on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. The Council assessed that Mr K needed care at home for 7 hours per week. The care provider it commissioned was meant to visit twice a day for 30 minutes, to assist him in dressing and undressing. The care started in February 2018.
  2. The Council carried out a financial assessment to work out what Mr K should pay based on his income. The Council’s assessment officer visited and made a note that Mr K was advised that the service would be chargeable and that the financial assessment was required.
  3. After completing the assessment in April 2018 the Council advised Mr K that his maximum contribution was £81 per week. This increased from April 2018 to £96.
  4. The Council charged Mr K £25 and £30 for the first two weeks care but then changed the care provider. From late February the charges increased to £81 per week. From April 2018 the charges were £96, and then reduced to £60 per week until the end of May 2018.
  5. When Mr K received the invoices for the charges, he gave notice because he said he was not happy with the amount the Council asked him to contribute. He said the carers generally only stayed for 5 or 10 minutes. They helped him to put on his shoes and socks Therefore, he did not accept he should pay for an hour a day, as this was not the care he actually received. He said he would pay but did not accept the extra charges for care he did not receive. He also said the Council had not advised him that he would have to pay for the service.
  6. In response to Mr K’s complaint the Council said that Mr K’s personal contributions had increased and his disability related expenditure had reduced. The Council said the number of hours care Mr K received had fluctuated and normally he paid much less than £96 per week. It explained it had checked the hours that the care provider had charged and confirmed the accuracy.

Analysis

  1. Mr K complained about the advice the Council gave about charges for the service. He thought he would have nothing to pay. The Council’s notes taken at the time show that the officer told Mr K that there would be a charge for the service. The Council did not know until the assessment was completed what the exact charge would be. However, it advised Mr K in April 2018 that it had assessed he needed to pay a maximum of £81 per week, and how it had assessed this. I have not found there was fault or unacceptable delay in advising Mr K would be charged.
  2. In its response to my enquiries the Council provided information regarding the financial assessment and the invoices sent to Mr K. I asked the Council for log sheets from the care provider which give details of each of the visit times and actions taken. The Council provided this, and it shows that there are some differences between the amount of care provided and the amount charged. In some cases the carer’s visit was 15 minutes or less (30 minutes a day). This means that for some weeks the Council should have charged Mr K less than the maximum charge of £81 or £96 per week. This was fault.
  3. In addition, the Council’s care provider rounded up the hours worked to the nearest 15 minutes. While this is an acceptable practice, I have not seen evidence that the Council or its care provider explained this to Mr K. The Council’s advice to service users which was current at the time did not explain this. When Mr K became aware of this in April, it appears that he and the care provider ensured each visit was no longer than 15 minutes. Therefore, I do not consider the Council made it clear how and what it would charge until some time after the care started. I consider this was fault.
  4. The Council’s response to Mr K’s complaint explained its view regarding the charges and why these had changed. It also said that it had checked the actual charges and confirmed they were correct. However, it does not appear the explanation was correct or that the charges for the hours worked were fully checked. I consider this was fault which caused Mr K additional time and trouble.

Agreed action

  1. I recommended the Council reviews the charges and provides an invoice for the actual hours worked. I also recommended the Council waives the charges that are in excess of 15 minutes and have been rounded up to 30 minutes, charging for a maximum of 15 minutes each visit as it appears it did not properly explain this to Mr K. The Council should also apologise and pay Mr K £50 for his time and trouble. The Council has agreed to my recommendations. It should send the revised invoice and carry out my recommendations within 6 weeks of this decision.

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Final decision

  1. I have found fault by the Council. It has agreed to provide an appropriate remedy. I have completed my investigation and closed the complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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