Kent care provider refuses to refund bereaved family, despite independent investigation

The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has criticised a Gillingham care home for refusing to repay more than £6,000 it owes to a family following an independent investigation.

Cherry Acre Residential Home has refused to repay £6,500 to the family of a former resident of the home after it wrongly charged the man a retrospective ‘top up’ fee covering a period during which the local council paid for his care.

The man had been living at the home as a self-funding client, but when his money ran out the local council said it would fund his placement on a ‘deferred loan’ agreement until he had sold his home. At the same time the council agreed a rate with the provider, which was less than the amount the man had been paying.

Some time later, after the man had sold his home and was able to fund his own care, the provider charged him an extra ‘top up’ amount. This top-up was the difference between the lower amount the council paid during the time it agreed to fund his care and the rate the man would have paid had he continued to fund his own care during the period.  The provider should not have done this.

The provider also refused to refund the man some fees he had paid in advance for a period which was then funded by the NHS.

Because the provider has refused to refund the family, the LGO has issued a rare public notice highlighting its failings.  This notice comes just a month after the LGO issued a focus report into care home top-up fees, in which the Ombudsman warned many people could be paying too much for their placements because of misinformation and a lack of clarity from councils and care providers.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:

“The care provider has been given numerous opportunities to rectify the situation with the family yet has failed to accept it was wrong. It has shown no evidence of understanding the effect its refusal to repay the money has had on the family. Therefore I am issuing this Adverse Findings Notice to ensure local people are aware of the situation and can make informed decisions about choosing care.”

“As highlighted in my recent Focus Report, this is a clear case of a care provider charging top-up fees ‘by the back door’ – and asking for money over and above that which it had agreed with the local council.

“I now urge the provider to revisit this family’s complaint and repay the money they are owed.”

Cherry Acre Residential home has been asked to repay the man’s family £6,500 for his care, and an additional £500 in recognition of their stress and anxiety.

The Ombudsman’s report has been shared with health and social care regulators the Care Quality Commission.

In its capacity as Social Care Ombudsman, the LGO investigates unresolved complaints about all adult care services – whether it is arranged publicly or privately funded. The service is free to use, impartial and independent. If it finds fault, the LGO will recommend action to put things right. It publishes reports of its investigations to share lessons learned and help improve public services.

Article date: 23 November 2015