Northamptonshire Council criticised over charges for adult social care

Northamptonshire County Council failed to undertake regular reviews of care packages for two disabled service users.

Dr Jane Martin, LocalGovernment Ombudsman, says in her report (issued today) that the Council did not take the service users' circumstances fully into account in the charging assessments. She is concerned that the charging policy adopted by the Council, even when properly applied, could lead to charging decisions that do not meet the objectives of relevant government guidance. She notes that the Council has adopted a new charging policy, but is concerned that similar problems would arise under this new policy.

The report concerns two separate complaints about adult social care and charging assessments for disabled service users by the Council. The Ombudsman decided to produce a joint report on these complaints as they raise similar issues.

In the first case, the Ombudsman found that the Council failed to properly assess the charge for community care services provided to a disabled man – it took account of his disability-related income but not his disability-related expenditure. The Council also failed to properly review his care package – even when his brother gave up work to care for him.

In the second case, the Ombudsman found a number of failures in the handling of a disabled woman’s care package, The Council:

  • delayed and failed to properly review her care package through a face-to-face meeting
  • failed to properly assess her financial contribution, and
  • failed to ensure that her income remained above the minimum level of income support plus 25 per cent.

The Ombudsman finds maladministration and recommends that the Council take the following steps to remedy the injustice arising.

In respect of both complaints, the Council should:

  • ensure its care plan review procedures provide for reviews to be undertaken by staff who are skilled in assessment, with adequate care management authority and who will be seen by service users to be reasonably independent of the service they are currently receiving, and
  • review the Fairer Contributions Policy 2010 to learn the lessons from this complaint.

In respect of the first complaint the Council should:

  • undertake a further financial assessment and as part of this consider exercising discretion to waive future charges, and consider building the exercise of such discretion into its charging policy
  • waive any charges that have accrued on the man’s account to date
  • pay the man £500 for the failure to review his care package, and
  • pay the man’s brother (who complained on his behalf) £300 for his anxiety and time and trouble in pursuing his complaint.

In respect of the second complaint, the Council should:

  • pay the woman £1,650 for the failure to carry out a review and reassessment in a timely manner
  • pay her and her husband £250 to reflect their time and trouble in pursuing their complaint, and
  • pay them a further £500 in recognition of the additional financial pressure that they faced when the charge was being applied.

Report refs 09 006 887 & 09 011 195

Article date: 24 November 2011