Ombudsman finds systemic fault in council’s charging policy for Dudley care homes

Councils across England are being reminded of the need to offer affordable care home placements to families when arranging relatives’ care, following an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman into Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council.

The advice comes after the Ombudsman upheld a complaint from a family who were given no alternative but to pay a ‘third party top-up fee’ to help pay for their mother’s care. The issue is one the Ombudsman has previously warned councils across the country about in a national report.

In this case, the mother, who had vascular dementia, moved into a care home in February 2015. It was arranged by Dudley and Walsall Mental Health Partnership Trust, on behalf of the council. The cost of the placement was £408.83 a week, including the top-up.

The family explained in March they could only afford to pay £50 a week. The council agreed to pay the remainder of the top-up, which was £61.

In November 2015 the family realised they could no longer afford the weekly fee and asked for the council’s help. The mother’s needs were reassessed, but there was no record of any consideration of the affordability of the £50 weekly top-up fee.

Social services told the family the council would not pay the rest of the top-up fee, but would support the family if they wanted to consider moving their mother.

The family complained to the council. The council did not uphold the complaint, saying if they could not afford the £50 top-up, then the council would move the woman to a cheaper placement. The family complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman investigation found the trust, acting on behalf of the council, had not acted in line with statutory guidance when arranging the mother’s care. There was no evidence any alternative placement was made available for which the mother would not need a top-up. The trust could provide no evidence of any approaches made to any other care homes.

The investigation also found fault with the trust as it could not provide evidence of any information it gave to the family about top-ups. Additionally it did not enter into a written top-up agreement with the family and failed to check on the continued affordability.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“Families can only make proper informed decisions about their relatives’ care if they are given the correct information. In this case, the family was only presented with one option – to pay a top-up fee – and no further details about their rights.

“We issued a focus report on top-up fees in 2015 because we saw systemic problems across the country and I’m disappointed we are still seeing councils getting these issues wrong. I would urge other councils to check their own policies and procedures to ensure people in their areas are not similarly affected.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to improve local public, and adult social care, services.

In this case, to remedy the injustice caused to the family, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council has agreed to apologise and refund the £4,628 top-up payments the family has paid. It will also reassess the mother’s needs before making any changes to her care plan.

The investigation into the trust’s practices reveal evidence of systemic fault which may have resulted in similar injustices to other people in the area. Because of this, the council has also agreed to review all those in council-funded residential care managed within the trust’s mental health services and who pay top-ups to see if any refunds are due to them. It will also review its procedures.

Article date: 14 June 2017

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