Suffolk County Council (18 001 963)

Category : Adult care services > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 06 Dec 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council invoiced Mr B for three computer sessions at a day centre which the day centre did not provide. The Council has agreed to remove its charges for these sessions, apologise and make a payment of £150 to Mr and Mrs B. The Council has also agreed to take action to prevent similar failings in future.

The complaint

  1. Mr X is complaining on behalf of his parents, Mr and Mrs B. Mr X complains that the Council has charged Mr B a daily rate of £27 to attend a day centre, when he only attended a refresher laptop course for one hour a week. Mr and Mrs B say that they should not be charged for the times the facilitator did not turn up or for any transport costs because Mrs B transported her husband to and from the centre.

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 documents provided by Mr and Mrs B;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council has provided; and
    • given the Council and the complainant the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr B is 82 years old. He suffers with short term memory problems following a stroke around 8 years ago.
  2. The Council carried out a social care needs assessment in December 2016 and decided that Mr B met the eligibility criteria and needed support. Mr B expressed an interest in attending a computer course and it was agreed for Mr B to try a course at a day centre.
  3. Mr B attended a taster session at a day centre on 6 February 2017. Mr B then attended a session most weeks between 24 April and 20 November.
  4. The Council’s records show that it told Mr and Mrs B in December 2016 that they would need to complete a financial assessment form so that the Council could establish how much they needed to contribute towards the cost of Mr B’s care services.
  5. The Council sent the financial assessment form to Mr and Mrs B in December 2016. When it was not returned, the Council sent out another one in February 2017 but it was also not returned. In April, the Council sent another form out and said that if Mr and Mrs B did not return it by 4 May, it would assess Mr B as being a full cost payer. Mr and Mrs B did not return the form and so the Council started to invoice Mr B for the full cost of the computer course.
  6. The Council sent out further financial assessment forms in May and June which were also not returned. In August, the Council referred Mr and Mrs B’s case for a home visit to help them to complete the form. After some initial difficulties arranging a suitable date, the Council carried out a home visit and financial assessment in October. The Council told Mr and Mrs B that due to their income and savings, it had assessed them as being able to pay £111.12 per week towards the cost of Mr B’s care. As this was more than the cost of the computer course, Mr and Mrs B would have to pay the full cost of £27.85 for each weekly session. Mr B stopped attending shortly afterwards.
  7. The Council has charged Mr B a total of £787.95. The invoices show that this is for attendance at 27 sessions, charged at £27.85 per session. It also includes administration fees totalling £36.
  8. Mr and Mrs B say that the Council should not have charged that much because Mr B only attended for one hour a week and on some occasions the facilitator did not turn up. They also do not consider the Council should charge Mr B for transport because Mrs B transported Mr B to and from the centre.

Analysis

  1. I am satisfied that the Council has not charged Mr B for transport to and from the day centre.
  2. The Council says that it does not have any information about the facilitator not holding some of the sessions which it has charged Mr B for. It says that if Mr and Mrs B can provide further information about this, it will provide a refund. However, the information it has obtained itself from the day centre shows that Mr B only attended 24 sessions, and yet it has charged Mr B for attending 27 sessions. This is fault.
  3. The Council says that there is no hourly rate for the day centre; there are morning and afternoon sessions. The Council says it told Mrs B the start times and duration during a telephone call in December 2016 but I have seen no evidence to support this. In any event, the charges would have been clear by June 2017, when the Council started invoicing Mr B. Mr and Mrs B did not know how much of the £27.85 charge they would have to pay until the Council had completed the financial assessment. The evidence shows that Mr and Mrs B failed to return the financial assessment form on several occasions. I do not consider the delay in completing the financial assessment is due to any fault by the Council.

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Agreed action

  1. To remedy Mr and Mrs B’s injustice, within four weeks the Council will:
    • Issue a revised invoice without the charges for the three sessions which the day centre did not provide on 28 August 2017, 4 September 2017 and 23 October 2017;
    • Apologise and pays Mr and Mrs B £150 for its failure to remove the charges for these three sessions and for their time and trouble pursuing the complaint. This amount can be off set against the outstanding charges which will result in a revised invoice amount of £554.40.
  2. To prevent similar failings in future, within eight weeks the Council will review it procedures to ensure:
    • it properly investigates when a service user says they have been charged for a service they have not received; and
    • it does not charge for services not provided.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and uphold Mr and Mrs B’s complaint. There was fault by the Council which caused injustice to Mr and Mrs B. The action the Council has agreed to take is sufficient to remedy their injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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