Wirral People Are At Risk Of ‘Rip-Off’ Fees

VULNERABLE Wirral residents who receive social services in their own homes may be at substantial risk of being ripped off, according to a report by the Audit Commission.

The commission launched an investigation into value for money within Adult Social Services follow-ing “whistleblowing” complaints.

Completed between January and March of this year, the Commission found “there remains a substantial risk that users receiving services from one of the council’s Supported Living providers are being charged unfairly.”

The report added: “It is not clear who is currently ensuring that these service users are receiving adequate protection from the risk of financial abuse. This situation has existed for several years.”

Last night, Wirral Council said it had investigated the service where users were at risk of being unfairly charged, and said the majority were not.

It insisted that safeguards were now in place to ensure the financial protection of vulnerable residents.

One of the allegations raised under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, was that a “special charging policy” was applied by social services in respect of supported living users with learning disabilities.

The allegation made was the policy had not been approved by the council and was “excessive and unlawful”.

The review found a charging policy was applied at some Supported Living establishments, though it was unclear to what extent it was used or whether it had been approved by members.

The report also criticises the slow adoption of the Fairer Charging Guidance issued by the Department of Health in 1997, which was not adapted in full until 2007.

During the review, the Commission found service users had been told charges under Fairer Charging would be lower than they had originally paid. Compensation was promised from April, 2003, although no compensation has yet been given.

The report also concludes that in order for the council to provide ongoing value for money, it must put a termination date on current open-ended contracts with service users.

An end date would allow the service to be re-advertised, allowing new providers to bid to take over the service at lower cost. The report also highlights good practice in many areas including procedures put in place by the council to reduce the risk of potential financial abuse.

Value for money reviews have now been put in place and the council has agreed to review charging annually.

A meeting of the Audit and Risk Management Committee will discuss the report at a meeting next Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Wirral’s Adult Social Services department, said: “The report identifies a number of areas of good practice and, where there were concerns, these are being addressed through an action plan agreed with the Audit Commission.

“We have thoroughly investigated the point that service users were at risk of being unfairly charged through one service provider and found that, in the vast majority of cases, they were not.

“However, appropriate safeguards are now in place to ensure the financial protection of all our residents living in vulnerable situations in future.”