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Ombudsman criticises council “for taking too long to change care home charging policy”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has criticised Lincolnshire County Council after a family was forced to complain for a second time about the way a relative’s care home fees were charged.

The woman had already complained to the Ombudsman in 2017 after the council’s practice of allowing care homes to collect third-party top-up fees on its behalf led to confusion when her father went into a care home.

At the time, the Ombudsman said this practice left families at the mercy of loved ones being evicted when they could no longer afford the fees, and was not in line with the Care Act.

The council initially disagreed with the Ombudsman’s findings. It later agreed to implement a new charging policy, in November 2020, in which the council would collect the top-up fees and then pass these on to care homes.

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The woman needed to place her mother in a care home in 2020, but because the new charging policy was not yet in place, she again had to pay a top-up fee to the home.

“This caused significant confusion as the council, the care home and the woman were all having different conversations about the fees. Despite the woman being concerned the care home was not affordable in the long-term, the council persuaded her to go ahead with the placement,” the Ombudsman said.

“Once the mother’s flat had been sold, she had to fund the care home place herself. But the fees were now too high, and the family moved their mother to a more affordable care home. The woman said she would not have placed her mother in the care home had she known she would not be able to stay long-term.”

The woman complained to the LGSCO about the way the council dealt with their case. The Ombudsman’s investigation criticised the advice and information provided by the council and the lack of clarity given to the family when deciding their care options.

The investigation also found there was confusion and delay by the council when dealing with top-up agreement forms, exacerbated by the council sending three copies of the form with different and inaccurate figures and no explanation.

The LGSCO recommended that Lincolnshire:

  • provide a formal apology to the daughter and pay her £600 for the time, trouble and distress she has experienced, and
  • complete the changes to its payment process in line with the Ombudsman’s previous recommendations "as a matter of urgency".

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “While I welcome the council’s acceptance of my previous report, had it implemented the recommendations from my earlier investigations more promptly, the family might not have been failed a second time.

“Despite the council eventually agreeing to bring its payment arrangements in line with the Care Act and statutory guidance, it has still not implemented the changes. I urge the council to do so as a matter of urgency to ensure no other family is affected.”

Glen Garrod, Executive Director of Adult Care at Lincolnshire, said: "It's always our aim to provide the good quality support and services that our residents need and deserve. However, we have not met our own high standards in this instance. We accept the findings of the Ombudsman and are acting on their recommendations. We will be providing a further apology to Mrs B and making a payment of £600 in recognition of the time, trouble and distress she has experienced. In addition, we are making the improvements needed to change our payment processes, so similar problems don't happen in future."

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