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Councils urged to check their care charging procedures following Ombudsman investigations

Councils across England are being reminded of their obligations to families when placing people in care homes, after two North Yorkshire families paid over the odds for relatives’ care because the county council gave them inaccurate information.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has issued its findings into two complaints about North Yorkshire County Council this week. The Ombudsman, which investigates complaints about all adult social care, upheld the complaints after it found faults with a number of the council’s processes.

In one case, a family given ‘confused and confusing’ information by the council about the fees they should pay for their mother’s care, was left to pay significantly more than they might have done had they been given accurate information.

And in another case, a family was not provided with an affordable option in a suitable location when looking to place their mother in a nursing home – again leaving them to find a large weekly amount on top of what the council said it would pay for the care.

In both cases, the council told the families they would have to make arrangements to pay the additional ‘top up fees’ directly with the care home rather than with the council, contrary to statutory guidelines.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said:

“These two cases highlight exactly why councils need to give families clear and accurate information upfront about the financial arrangements, the care available and its cost when placing relatives in care settings.

“Just this week the Care Quality Commission published details of its survey, which found that choosing care for loved ones is one of the most stressful life events for people. This stress can only be compounded when councils offer confusing and conflicting information at crucial times in the process.

 “There is much that other councils can learn from our investigation findings that could help clear up the fog of confusion around top-up fees. I would urge councils’ adult social care teams to read our 2015 top-up fee Focus Report and review their own policies to ensure they meet the demands of the Care Act.”

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 the first case, the council has agreed to apologise to the family and refund the woman’s estate the ‘top-up fee’ for a period of 10 months.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve a council’s processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to review a number of its procedures to improve record keeping, communication to customers and reduce delays in  financial assessments. It will also ensure care and support plans meet statutory requirements and that top-up payments are no longer routinely collected by care homes.

Where faults have come to light with council’s processes, the Ombudsman has the power to ask councils to provide remedies to other people who have not complained, but where they might have been affected by the same circumstances. The council has agreed to review other cases, where there is a deferred payment agreement and a top-up, to ensure there is also a top-up agreement in place.

In the second case, the council has agreed to apologise and pay the family £500 for the time and trouble of bringing the complaint. It will also refund £50 per week of the top-up paid by the resident’s daughter for her mother’s care and waive this from future payments at least until it reviews the placement top-up.

It will also amend its Individual Placement Agreements to bring them into line with statutory guidance about paying top-ups.

It will consider the action it needs to take to ensure care assessments look at the placement location when this has been raised as an issue, and that it does not put people in care homes which require a top-up fee where it does not have a signed top-up fee agreement in place.

The council will also ensure best interest agreements are made when necessary and people are given a care and support plan before a placement in residential accommodation is made.

Article date: 02 March 2018