Ombudsman criticises top-up charges
Caring Times, March 2013
By PETER GROSE, & ABIGAIL CROSS Lester Aldridge Solicitors LLP Tel: 01202 786161
Councils have been urged to review fee levels following recent criticism by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) who found that Southampton City Council had been wrongly charging top-up fees for residential care.
Following a stroke, the family of an elderly woman were advised to find a nursing home placement for her in order to enable her discharge from hospital. They were unable to find a care home at Southampton City Council’s ‘usual rate’ which was able to meet the woman’s assessed needs.
The family therefore chose a home with higher rates, which led to the Council charging top-up fees of £187.57 per week.
In her report, the LGO stated that the Council should have paid to accommodate the woman elsewhere and should not have sought additional fees beyond the assessed contribution.
Southampton City Council has accepted the Ombudsman’s findings and has agreed to pay the full cost of the woman’s care, less her assessed contribution, and to pay back the wrongly charged top-up fees with interest at the local authority’s standard rate.
The Council was also ordered to pay the family £500 in recognition of the time, trouble and distress caused to them. The LGO recommended that the Council should review its own guidance for staff regarding the availability of services at the Councils ‘usual rate’ and negotiate access to placements at the Councils ‘usual rate’ with key care home providers.
The LGO also advised the Council to hold discussions with care home providers to develop an agreement on fee levels. She suggested that these recommendations should be considered by other Councils around the country. The decision unfortunately comes in the wake of a number of challenges to the ‘usual fees’ paid by Councils, with mixed results for providers. The LGO said she had decided to publish her report in the public interest because Councils across the country are faced with similar situations.
– The LGO’s report can be located at www.lgo.org.uk