Wirral council faces grilling over ‘special charging’ policy

WIRRAL Council will tonight face demands for an independent investigation into how vulnerable people in the local authority’s care remain unprotected from “financial abuse”.

The demand comes just a day before the second meeting of a committee which will consider claims that vulnerable people were overcharged and then the case covered up.

A September meeting of the authority’s audit committee was told the council allowed a “co-ordinated cover-up and serious malpractice” over a special charging policy for vulnerable people in its care.

The allegations were made by former social services employee Martin Morton who also told the committee he had been bullied out of his job after raising concerns about the so-called Special Charging Policy, which was applied at council-run establishments for vulnerable people in Wirral from 1997.

Mr Morton has been backed by Conservative councillor Simon Mountney who will tonight be pressing for an independent investigation into the case.

A notice of motion to full council said: “There remains a substantial risk that users receiving services from one of the council’s service providers are being charged unfairly.”

The motion also said: “It is not clear who is currently ensuring that these service users are receiving adequate protection from the risk of financial abuse.”

Cllr Mountney’s motion also calls on the chief executive, Steve Maddox, to “appoint an independent person of sufficient standing and experience to investigate these matters fully, speedily and rigorously and to bring their findings to the council’s attention, including any disciplinary action, if required”.

At the last audit committee a long-awaited report to councillors admitted certain charges were unlawful and that 15 vulnerable people were overcharged a total of £116,000.

However, Mr Moreton insisted the figures were much higher, and the committee agreed to meet again after officers investigated this, including comparing Wirral’s charges with other authorities.

The report to Tuesday’s committee said: “Some charges are comparable with Wirral’s and the maximum charge of one approximated to Wirral’s average for the period 1997/1998 to 2002/2003 which was £78.

“The approximate average for the other authorities is £45.”

The report added: “Some of those (councils) who made comments on Wirral’s charging policy were critical of the level and considered it high.”

Mr Morton said: “The amounts the council has said it owes has gone up from nothing to £78,000, to £116,000 to £234,000, and it will still go higher. If I had not persisted they would not have agreed to pay anything, and I’m determined they should pay back everything they owe.”