Cheshire East Council

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Care bill for family soared without warning because of poor council information, Ombudsman finds

North Yorkshire County Council has been criticised by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman after a family's care bill leapt from hundreds to thousands of pounds a month without notice.

The way the council communicated the change to the woman and her daughter came under the Ombudsman's scrutiny after they complained that the local authority had suddenly decided to consider the woman's home when assessing how much she needed to pay for her care.

The woman first went to live in supported living accommodation in 2013 after she developed Alzheimer's, at a weekly cost of £900. At the time, the council chose to disregard the value of her home, and so she only had to pay £57.20 a week towards the cost. It carried out annual financial assessments every year until 2017.

The daughter moved into her mother's home in 2017. No assessment was carried out in 2018, but in 2019 the council wrote to the mother to say a new assessment needed to be made. In a telephone call to the daughter, the council explained that second properties would now be taken into account, and the mother would have to pay the full cost of her care.

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The family was left with £33,000 in care charges and a further £380 towards the cost of progressing a delayed payment agreement (DPA), which would mean that when the house was sold any money owing would come out of the proceeds of the sale.

The Ombudsman's investigation criticised the way the council communicated with the mother and daughter.

It also found that North Yorkshire did not give advice and information about the impact of the change in its treatment of the property in the financial assessment. The council was not clear about the details of its new charging policy, how it applied it, or its reasons for deciding to include the value of the home in the financial assessment, according to the Ombudsman.

In addition, North Yorkshire failed to ensure the mother fully understood the details of the DPA when she signed the application form.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Ombudsman said that when significant changes are being made to the way a family pays for care, councils "must ensure they provide clear, accurate and easy-to-understand advice and information" on why those changes are being made.

He added: "In this case, while we cannot say whether the council was right to change the way it assessed the family's finances, the absence of clear information led to confusion and a loss of trust in the council's processes.

"I welcome the council's readiness to accept the recommendations I have made to remedy the situation for this family, and the wider steps it will now take to ensure other families are not affected in the same way."

At the recommendation of the Ombudsman, North Yorkshire has provided the daughter with a copy of its current charging policy for non-residential care and has explained when its approach to the treatment of property within this policy changed, who authorised the change and whether any assessment of the impact on vulnerable service users was done.

The council will also carry out a review of its decision not to apply the property disregard to the mother's financial assessment and apply the new decision to the mother's case from February 2020.

It has confirmed the DPA was not finalised, and it will pay the daughter £500 for the distress caused and her time and trouble in pursuing the matter.

In addition, the council will review each time it has removed a property disregard from a service-user since April 2019. If it finds faults similar to this case, it should follow the principles agreed here to remedy any injustice caused.

In a statement, Richard Webb, Corporate Director for Health and Adult Services at North Yorkshire, apologised for any distress and inconvenience experienced by the family members involved.

He said: "We have agreed to the recommendations laid out in the report and these recommendations will ensure that lessons are learned and improvements made to practice.

"A number of the recommendations made by the Ombudsman have already been implemented."

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