Norfolk County Council has agreed to investigate whether more care home residents have been incorrectly charged a top-up fee, after one family’s complaint was upheld by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
When the family placed their mother in a care home and needed to sell her house to pay for her care, the council should have offered the woman a so-called ‘affordable’ care home. This would not require the family to pay a top-up fee above what the council would contribute, for 12 weeks while the home was being sold.
Instead, the Ombudsman’s investigation found the council charged the family for those 12 weeks, wrongly arguing that because the woman’s capital, including her property, was above the £23,250 threshold, it did not have to offer her an affordable placement.
The council has waived the fee, and has agreed to check if it has charged other people in the county in error. It has also agreed to improve the information it offers to families when they are seeking help with care home placements.
Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King, said:
“Councils should not take into account the value of a person’s property when making assessments of people’s ability to pay for their care in a care home during the first 12 weeks of their stay.
“If this means a person’s capital falls below the threshold of £23,250, the council should offer an affordable care home that does not require a top-up fee.
“I am pleased Norfolk council has agreed to the remedy, and hope the recommendations made will improve services and the information provided to many people at what is often a difficult and stressful time for families.”
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 apologise to the family and pay the son £300 for his distress.
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve a council’s processes for the wider public. In this case the council will tell staff the correct approach to take when dealing with needs and financial assessments.
The council has also agreed to review its process to ensure people receive the information they need to make informed decisions about finding an affordable care home.
It will also review its policy on charging to ensure it contains sufficient detail about when the council should ask for a top-up fee. It will examine whether there has been anyone else similarly affected and remedy the injustice to them too.