London borough to revise social care charging policy after Ombudsman investigation and court ruling

The London Borough of Bexley has agreed to revise its social care charging policy after a man complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) about the way the authority increased its costs.

The man told the Ombudsman the council had increased the amount it charged him in administration costs for it to manage his mother’s domiciliary care package. He said as a result the cost increased by 200%.

The man had been paying a flat fee of £260 per year to the council for arranging and administering the care, but the council changed the way it charged for this service and instead charged everyone 6.1% of a person’s care and support package. This led to the man now having to pay £793 per annum.

The man complained to the council but the council delayed responding to his concerns, the LGSCO said. Initially it did not uphold his complaint, but after further discussion it accepted that those with larger packages were paying too much – and more than the actual costs the council incurred.

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The council has since proposed a new policy based on a banded system. “However there is still uncertainty about whether the new policy will ensure people are not over charged,” the Ombudsman said.

The LGSCO recommended that Bexley:

  • apologise to the man
  • pay him £150 for the time and trouble in making the complaint
  • remind staff about dealing with complaints in a timely manner, addressing the complaints made, and put in place a revised charging policy
  • retrospectively apply any new or revised policy from May 2019 to the family and other similarly affected people and, if applicable, credit or refund their accounts.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “The blanket charge brought in by the council is not in line with statutory guidance and has meant some people in the Bexley area are paying over the odds, and more than the costs incurred by the council.

“The council now needs to put in place a system that is fair to all and ensure the new charging policy is in line with government guidance.”

Bexley’s Chief Executive, Jackie Belton, said the council had apologised to the two people involved in the complaint, and had accepted and would act on all the Ombudsman’s recommendations.

She said: “At the time we received the complaint we believed that our charging policy was fair. Following the complaint by Mr C we had started to review the policy. That work was unfortunately delayed during the pandemic. 

“Taking account of the Ombudsman’s views and a recent court case involving another local authority, we accept that this review must be brought forward quickly.”

Belton added: “We are reviewing the report alongside the court judgment. We have arranged for the Council’s Cabinet to consider a report on the charging policy at its meeting on 26 July, when it will be asked to approve a 12-week public consultation on a new charging policy.

“The results of the consultation will be reported to the Cabinet before the end of the year, when it will be asked to approve a new charging policy that can be seen to be fair.

“We will ensure that changes to our charges are applied retrospectively for any people who are in the same position to the complainants.”

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