Ombudsman warns councils of care charging duties after North Somerset complaint

Councils cannot charge people for the first six weeks of intermediate care, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has warned, following an investigation into a complaint about North Somerset Council.

The warning comes after a family complained North Somerset Council was not clear about the care home fees they had to pay when a family member left hospital following an amputation.

The council claimed that the care the relative received was not intermediate care, but ‘enablement’ and so charged the family.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King (pictured), said: “Simply referring to intermediate care by another name does not allow the council to charge for it. Intermediate care, where people are receiving support with the intention of returning home, cannot be charged in this initial period.

“I am pleased the council has agreed to apologise to the family and pay them the remedy we have recommended. However, it now needs to identify and repay any others who may have been incorrectly charged for the care they have received.”

The Ombudsman’s investigation found fault with the council for having confusing and conflicting information on its website and in leaflets about its enablement service. As a result of the Ombudsman’s investigation it will be reviewing its enablement offer.

The investigation also criticised the council for the way the care home sent an incorrect invoice to the family for the care received. Where councils commission services from other organisations, they retain overall responsibility for those services.

The council has agreed to apologise and pay the man £722.40 for the six weeks of intermediate care fees he should not have paid to the care home.

The council has also agreed to reduce the amount the family rightly owe because of the distress caused by wrongly backdating the full cost of care for the period when he should have received intermediate care.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve a council’s processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to review its adult social care charging policy and procedures to ensure it is compliant with the Care Act, specifically addressing charging for enablement.

The council should now notify staff in the relevant Social Care, Financial Assessment and Benefits Teams of policy and procedural changes; and identify any adults who have received ‘enablement’ care since April 2015, who should have been entitled to free intermediate care.

The Ombudsman has also recommended the council write to those affected, or where necessary a suitable representative, and arrange to refund their costs for the first six weeks of their enablement package. It has not yet agreed to this recommendation.