The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) is reminding councils that people can spend their money as they wish, within reason, when paying for their own care, after an investigation found faults with the way Cornwall Council assessed a man’s finances.
The reminder comes following a complaint to the Ombudsman that Cornwall made a number of errors when establishing how much the man needed to pay for his care. The investigation uncovered potential “systematic problems” in the way the council assesses people.
Cornwall treated the family’s finances as though it was paying for the care, rather than the family, according to the Ombudsman. It made a self-funding calculation that limited the man’s personal expenditure to a restrictive personal expenses allowance, rather than allowing him to spend his money as he wished, within reason. Personal expenses allowances only apply when the council itself is paying for care, not for people who fund their own care.
Following the investigation, the LGSCO is also reminding councils that they must disregard half of a person’s work pension when calculating how much they must contribute towards their care, if that pension is being used to support a spouse or civil partner.
In this case, the council also put too high a threshold on the proof it required to demonstrate the man was paying money to his wife. It said a joint account was not evidence of this, despite accepting the wife was using the money for her maintenance. The council’s poor calculations meant there was a delay in funding the man’s care when his capital fell below the government threshold of £23,250.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “I am issuing this report because I believe there may be systemic problems in the way Cornwall Council assesses people in the county.
“I have asked the council to identify anyone else adversely affected by similar issues over the past 12 months and provide them with a remedy too. I am disappointed the council has not yet agreed to do this, so I urge it to reconsider its position.”
Cornwall Council has accepted the findings of the Ombudsman’s report.
Cornwall’s portfolio holder for adults Councillor Rob Rotchell said: “We apologise to the individuals involved in this case for the distress caused. The Ombudsman requires us to change the way we assess people’s income when they are responsible for funding their own care.
“We will be changing our approach and our team will be taking account of these findings in carrying out assessments in the future.
“It may not be possible to comply with the recommendation relating to assessments already undertaken but we are looking into this and have raised this matter with the Ombudsman.”
Cornwall has agreed to pay £6,941 to the man’s estate to reinstate his capital to £23,250. It will pay the man’s son £250 for the time and trouble of making the complaint.
The Ombudsman has also recommended the council makes sure it disregards 50% of occupational pensions when they are being paid to a spouse or civil partner for maintenance (for example, by amending its policy and training officers) and ensure it does not restrict the discretionary expenditure of self-funders to the Personal Expenses Allowance.
Cornwall should identify anyone else adversely affected by its current practices within the past 12 months and remedy any injustice they have been caused, the Ombudsman said.