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Councils advised about care charging following complaint

We remind councils of the need to properly assess the impact on existing users when they change the way they commission care.

The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) is advising councils that they cannot significantly change contractual funding arrangements for current care home residents because they alter the way they commission care.

With an aging population and a growing number of older people in need of some form of support, adult social care costs are placing an increasing burden on authorities’ budgets.

But the LGO is saying councils should not reduce the amount they pay for care home placements, and leave families to find the difference, where there are funding agreements already in place for a particular level of care.

The advice follows an investigation where we found fault in the way Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council had acted when it changed the way it commissioned care. A man complained to us that his mother - who was 80 and had dementia - had to pay significant additional costs every week to remain in the home she had lived in for the past three years.

When the council reviewed the way it commissioned placements, the home in which the man’s mother lived was excluded from a new quality framework, despite meeting the set criteria. As a result, the council reduced the amount paid to ‘off framework’ homes and there was a shortfall in the amount paid to the care home, which the family had to make up.

The man’s only options were to pay significantly more for his mother’s care or move her - at a significant risk to her health and wellbeing - to a different home.

Our investigation also highlighted that potentially a further 160 older people and their families across the area could be similarly affected.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman said:

“Councils are entitled to take into account their resources when planning how they commission services, and many are experiencing particular pressure in adult care, but they must properly assess the impact of any changes on existing users and act in accordance with the law.

“I urge all authorities to look very closely at their plans, if they are changing care commissioning in their area, to ensure that no vulnerable residents are placed in a similar position.

“In this particular case, our complainant was in a very difficult situation, he could not move his mother and risk her health deteriorating, and he could not afford to pay the extra money the council demanded.”

We have recommended the council reimburse the woman’s estate the full amount of the third party top-up payments, apologise to her son and pay him £250 in recognition of the time and trouble he has gone to in bringing the complaint.

The council has also been requested to review the individual cases of other affected residents and consider whether a similar remedy is appropriate. This applies to all affected residents placed at the same home, and any other care homes, prior to the introduction of the quality framework.

As the Social Care Ombudsman, we investigate unresolved complaints about all adult care services – including care that is privately funded as well as publicly arranged. We are free to use, impartial and independent. We publish reports of our investigations to share lessons learned and help improve public services.

Article date: 03 October 2014