London Borough of Southwark (16 017 547)

Category : Adult care services > Domiciliary care

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 10 Nov 2017

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: There was fault by the Council in not giving adequate notice of a ten fold increase in the contributions Mr C had to make to his care charges. This meant Mr C could not consider his care needs in a planned way. When Mr C’s needs were reassessed they were reduced. There was delay in telling the complainant of the increase to the direct debit necessary to meet the new charges. To remedy the complaint the Council will, within one month of the date of this decision, remove £2,677.92 of the charges from the account.

The complaint

  1. Mr B complains on behalf of his father Mr C. He complains that:
    • the Council did not tell his father of changes to his assessed contribution to his care fees;
    • sometimes only one carer attended when two should but the care provider still charged for two;
    • the Council did not respond to his complaints as it promised to do;
    • Mr C was not properly reassessed before the increase in the contribution to care costs.
  2. Mr B considers the Council has charged his father too much and the claimed sums should be removed from the account. He considers the actions have caused his father and him stress and inconvenience. He considers the Council should admit it has made mistakes.

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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 considered the complaint and spoke to Mr B. I asked the Council for its comments on the complaint and additional information. I sent a copy of a draft of this statement to Mr B and the Council and invited their comments.

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What I found

  1. Mr C lived at home with Mr B. His adult social care needs had been assessed by the Council. The support plan that was in place provided for four visits a day with two carers.
  2. The Council introduced a fairer contribution policy in September 2015. Before that the Council had consulted users of adult social care in 2015 on the proposed changes.
  3. Under the new policy the Council reassessed Mr C’s contribution to his care. The result was that his contribution increased from £80 a week to £700 a week. The Council wrote in April informing all service users of their new contribution from 11 April. Mr B and Mr C did not receive the letter. The Council wrote again on 15 July. It said that because of the increase in contribution the monthly direct debit would be increased to just over £2300 a month and to cover the increase from 11 April nearly £10,000 would be taken at the end of the month.
  4. Mr B complained and raised complaints about the care provided. In particular that the care provider did not always provide two carers but charged for two and had falsified the care logs to say they had attended when they had not.
  5. Mr C continued to receive care from Care Direct until just before he went into residential care in the middle of October. At the end of the period the sum the Council says is due is over £17,000. No payments have been made towards it. Mr B has commented that he had offered to continue to pay at the original rate.

The increased charge

  1. The Council could alter the basis on which it charged for care services. It consulted on this and considered the representations made and the changes. Mr B and Mr C did not receive the consultation letter but I cannot say that was because of some fault by the Council.
  2. The Council wrote to all service users in April 2016 advising of the new charges. Mr B and Mr C did not receive the letter. The Council has accepted that it should have given Mr C advance notice of the increase in his charges as a result of the change to its policy. Had it done this I consider that Mr B and Mr C would have asked for a reassessment of Mr C’s care needs as this is what they did when they were aware of the increase in July.
  3. The reassessment resulted in a reduction to Mr C’s assessed needs and reduction in his contribution of £111.58 a week. Had the Council given Mr C the advance notice it has accepted it should then I consider the reduced care package could and should have been in place when the increase came in. This would mean that Mr C’s care costs would have reduced over the 26 weeks before he went into residential care.
  4. It took three months to tell Mr B and Mr C of the proposed increase in the direct debit. The letter must have come as a shock to Mr B and Mr C but the sums were not collected because Mr B complained.

The care provided

  1. When Mr B received the notice of the increase he complained that all the commissioned care had not been provided. He said that regularly two carers did not attend and that they attended when Mr C was at a day centre. The Council investigated. The conclusion was there had been three occasions when carers attended when the care provider had been told that Mr C would be at the day centre. The care log would also routinely be signed by one person for both the carers attending. The Council investigated and concluded that this was poor practice but it was not possible to say that only one carer had attended.
  2. Mr B considers there has not been a robust response from the Council on the issues about the care provided. I consider the Council has carried out a proportionate investigation given the difficulties of investigating the allegations that were not made at the time.

Other matters

  1. Mr B put a number of questions to the Council. The Council has investigated Mr B’s complaints and responded. In doing so it has not answered all the specific questions Mr B put. That is not fault; the Council does not have to respond to every point put to it. I consider the Council has provided answers to the key points and set out its position. I do not consider there are any issues that have caused significant injustice to Mr B or Mr C to which the Council should respond.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council will remove £2,677.92 from the outstanding balance on the account. That is the sum that would not have been due had the revised care package been in place from 11 April.

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Final decision

  1. There was fault by the Council in not giving adequate notice of a ten fold increase in the contributions Mr C had to make to his care charges. This meant Mr C could not consider his care needs in a planned way. When Mr C’s needs were reassessed they were reduced. There was delay in telling the complainant of the increase to the direct debit necessary to meet the new charges. To remedy the complaint the Council will, within one month of the date of this decision, remove £2,677.92 of the charges from the account.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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