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Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council (10 018 968)

Category : Adult care services > Residential care

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 10 Jul 2012

Summary

Walsall Council wrongly charged a woman top-up fees for her mother’s residential care.

The complaint

The Ombudsman said: “The Council could not reasonably expect the complainant to pay top up fees here, as no suitable alternative placement had been identified.” She also said it was “wholly unacceptable” that the Council had abdicated from its statutory responsibilities for paying the home’s fees.

The complainant’s elderly mother had mild dementia and lived in a Walsall residential home. When she needed to move to a different home because her care needs changed, the daughter found a suitable new home in her own area. Soon after, the Council moved her mother there in emergency circumstances. The cost was higher than the Council would usually pay for care, and so it relied on an earlier agreement by the complainant to pay a top-up fee for the new home (that she had found herself), as she desperately wanted her mother to leave the home she had been in.

The investigation showed that the Council did not establish whether there were any residential homes in either its own area or in the complainant’s area that would be suitable for her mother and where a top-up fee would not be required. The Council kept poor records of the information it provided to the complainant about residential homes. She paid a top-up fee as requested by the Council until she could no longer afford it.

The Ombudsman found that the Council should not have asked the complainant to make the top-up payments. It did not review the fee arrangements with the residential home or take responsibility for the contractual arrangements. When the home increased its charges, the Council expected her to increase the top-up fees, too. The complainant was worried over a long period that, because she could not pay, the Council or the home might take steps to move her mother from where she was settled and happy.

The Ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice and, in accordance with her recommendations, the Council agreed to:

  • apologise to the complainant and reimburse her the amount of top-up she paid, £5,049.17, with interest of £982.50, totalling £6,031.67
  • pay her £250 for her time, trouble and anxiety
  • come to an agreement with the home to resolve the fee and any backdated or overdue payments
  • review its systems to ensure that the availability of suitable accommodation based on assessed need is established by the Council before relying on a relative’s willingness to pay top-up fees
  • check that it has processes in place to demonstrate the lists it provides to relatives
  • review its arrangements where third party payments are involved to ensure the responsibility for contractual arrangements and reviews rests with the Council as the law says, and
  • provide the Ombudsman with written confirmation that the above remedies have been implemented, within three months.

 

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