Families need to have confidence that councils are protecting the interests of their loved ones when acting as financial appointees, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has said.
In one case investigated recently by the LGO, Halton Borough Council did not deal properly with a disabled client’s finances for more than seven years.
Additionally, because the council did not maintain transparent records of how it was dealing with the woman’s money it was unable to demonstrate it was acting in her best interests when it did receive complaints from the family.
Due to the way the woman’s finances were managed, the family felt they needed to take over the responsibility for her accounts because they did not have confidence in the council’s handling of her money.
The council first became involved with the woman’s finances when she moved into supported accommodation in 2002, at which time the council became her appointee as her family lived some distance away.
Between 2006 and 2013 the woman shared supported accommodation with one or two others and for most of that time she received housing benefit and income support. When the council first became appointee, it paid the accommodation’s joint utility bills from a general account and reclaimed contributions from each resident. After 2008 it took the water bill and TV licence fee in full from the woman’s account and repaid her when it collected contributions from the other residents.
When the council experienced increasing difficulties collecting other residents’ shares it changed the arrangement and passed the responsibility for the bills to the care provider. The council continued to pay the water bill and TV licence in full from the woman’s account.
Whilst acting as appointees the council failed to identify that the woman was being overpaid income support. It also miscalculated the woman’s entitlement to housing benefit, which also resulted in an overpayment. When both of these errors came to light the council repaid the amounts, leaving her with nothing in her account when the family took over her finances again.
The woman’s sister made numerous complaints to the council and had to pursue the council ‘relentlessly’ for answers before she brought her complaint to the Ombudsman.
Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:
"When acting as financial appointees, councils hold full responsibility for managing the finances of vulnerable people. Their families have every right to believe they should be acting in their relatives’ best interests.
“In this position of trust, councils need to make sure they manage those people’s finances in an effective, accountable and transparent way.
“I am pleased Halton council has already made a number of changes to its policies and procedures in light of my report and would encourage other councils to look at their own policies to ensure they are dealing fairly with the people for whom they are acting.”
To remedy the complaint, the council has been asked to apologise to the family and arrange an independent external review of its practices for other service users in similar circumstances.
The council was also been asked to review a number of other arrangements it has in place to ensure the events do not happen again.
The council was also asked to:
- repay £11,700 to the woman to put her back in the position she was in before it miscalculated her housing benefit overpayment and refund the appointee charges applied from January 2006 until it stopped being her appointee, in recognition of its failure to manage her money properly.
- reimburse the sister for the £400 she overpaid for her bills and a further £292.75 which she spent on clothes for the woman; it should also pay her £500 for the distress, time and trouble she has been caused.
Article date: 24 May 2016