Worcestershire County Council has been criticised by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman after a care home it contracted with charged a vulnerable dementia patient for care it could not prove it had provided.
The woman had been placed in Haresbrook Park care home when she was discharged from hospital in January 2015. The Ombudsman found the council failed to assess the woman’s needs properly, including her mental capacity, following her move. Because of this flawed assessment, the council wrongly regarded the woman as capable of self-funding her own care. Although the woman had the savings to fund her own care, she had no capacity to do so and no-one to manage her finances. Despite this, and contrary to the law, the council stopped paying for the woman’s care.
The care home upped its fees by £700 a week from £500 to £1,200 three months after the council stopped funding the woman’s care. It also backdated the increase - something the Ombudsman was particularly critical of as there was no evidence the care home provided any increased care for the backdated period. It therefore charged a vulnerable woman several thousands of pounds for a service it never delivered.
The home claimed the increase was due to the woman’s care needs, but when challenged could provide the Ombudsman with little evidence the extra care was either needed or delivered.
Additionally, there was nothing in the home’s own contract to suggest the woman’s fees could be reviewed mid-year.
The woman’s son was unable to pay for his mother’s care as he did not have access to her funds. He contacted the county council, which reassessed his mother. By the end of June 2016 the council had agreed to pay the care provider at its standard rate, but this still left the woman to pay the difference. The council failed to assume responsibility to either pay for all the care charges or challenge the care provider’s increase in care charges. It should not have left the son unsupported when the provider continued to invoice him.
The son then asked the care home to reassess his mother as he thought she was more settled and did not need one-to-one care. The home said she could not be left alone and needed the extra support, but could not provide any record of the support it actually gave his mother when he requested it.
At the same time the son attempted to become a court-appointed deputy to manage her financial affairs. But his mother died before this was completed. As she died without leaving a will he then had to gain probate. The care home chased the family and threatened to refer the outstanding debt to solicitors following the woman’s death even before probate had been granted.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
“Worcestershire County Council remained responsible for this woman’s care throughout her time at the care home. Neither the woman nor her family were in any position to arrange her care for her, and were certainly in no position to pay for it.
“Had social workers assessed her needs properly from the outset, much of the distress caused to the family could have been avoided. Instead the council left the woman and her family to deal with the care home alone.
“I am pleased the council has agreed with my recommendations and now urge it to learn from this case to ensure others are not similarly affected.”
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to improve local public, and adult social care, services.
In this case, to remedy the complaint the council has agreed to apologise to the son and pay him £1,000 in recognition of the distress caused by its actions. It will also arrange for the care home to reissue invoices for the care provided between March and August 2015, removing the £700 a week it made for one-to-one care. The council should ensure whatever credit is outstanding is refunded to the woman’s estate.
The Ombudsman has also made a number of recommendations for the county council to improve working with the hospital and social workers and should review whether it works with the care provider in future.
Article date: 15 June 2017