London council and care home amend policies after giving confusing information about fees

London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and Moreland House care home have agreed to change their charging policies after a resident paid too much for her care, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has said.

The council and care home provided a woman’s daughter with confusing and sometimes incorrect information about the fees her mother owed. This led the daughter to complain to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council at fault for the way it contracted out collecting client contributions to the care provider, which is not permissible under current social care guidelines.

It also found the council and care provider gave confusing information about the different elements of the fee for the mother’s care. And the care provider delayed invoicing the daughter for part of the fees, which left her facing a large bill when it finally arrived.

The council did not set a personal budget for the mother or prepare a care and support plan. It also failed to offer her a placement without a top-up fee, which is not in line with the Care Act.

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

“In our 2015 focus report, and in a number of public reports since, we have told councils it is rarely appropriate to allow care providers to collect third-party top-up fees on their behalf – and certainly this should never be the only option available to families. Councils should also never allow providers to collect client contributions.

“When people move between having their care paid privately, and by the council, the responsibility for payment can confuse even the most astute financial expert. So it is especially important for councils and care homes to have clear, upfront policies on charging that cover all scenarios.

“I welcome both the council and care home’s readiness to accept my recommendations and make the improvements to their policies we have suggested.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to repay half the client contribution for the mother.

The care home has agreed to pay the daughter £250 to reflect her avoidable distress.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case, the council has agreed to ensure all clients have a care and support plan which contains a personal budget and offers a placement within that person’s personal budget. It will also ensure written top-up agreements between the third party and the council are in place in all cases where a person is paying a top-up, and it reviews its fee collection arrangements to ensure they are in line with the law and guidance.

The care home has agreed to stop entering into third-party top-up arrangements where a council has arranged the placement and will now remove references to third party top-ups in its private contract.

Article date: 17 April 2019

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