Families may be paying too much for social care, Ombudsman reports

The cost of residential care is a serious public concern. When they turn to their council for help vulnerable people and their families need to have the confidence that they are being given accurate information about the charges that they face.

In a report issued today, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) asks if families across England are paying more than they need to because they have not been given comprehensive information about the costs of care available in their area.

In the report, which looks at ‘top-up fees’ paid by families for their relatives’ care, the LGO explains the confusion faced by people looking to place a relative in a home. It gives examples of cases where councils provide confusing or incorrect advice, do not offer potential residents a genuine choice of affordable care home or have any affordable homes available. Sometimes when a family member is settled in a home and all costs agreed, providers have tried to charge their own top-up fees without the local authority’s consent.

This confusion can lead to people paying more than they might need.

In the report, the LGO provides guidance for councils to make sure their procedures do not put people at risk of paying too much and offers questions for councillors to help scrutinise their authorities’ policies and procedures.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:

“When confronted with what can be an emotionally-charged decision to place a relative in a care home, people need as much information as possible at their fingertips

“In order to make the best possible choice for all, families need to have confidence that the information they receive is clear, comprehensive and accurate.

“I would urge all councils to look at the information they provide from the potential resident’s point of view to ensure their literature and communications minimise the confusion for those who need advice and help.”

Under the Care Act 2014, a council has a duty to assess people in need of care. Whether the council will contribute towards the cost of someone’s residential care will depend on the outcome of that assessment and an assessment of their finances.

Most people will have to pay a financial contribution towards their care out of their savings, pension or assets. People can choose a care home that costs more than the amount the council may pay, but someone else will usually have to agree to pay the difference. This difference between the combined amount a person pays in financial contribution and the council’s amount is what is called a top-up fee.

The LGO independently and impartially investigates complaints about councils and other bodies within our jurisdiction. Our services are free of charge.

The LGO is also the social care ombudsman, and since 2010 we have had the authority to investigate all complaints about adult care services, regardless of whether that care is provided by a council or privately.

If we find something wrong, we can ask the council or care provider to take action to put it right. What we ask them to do will depend on the particular complaint, how serious the fault was and how the complainant was affected.

Article date: 24 September 2015