Decision Date: 7th November 2019
Mr C complained on behalf of his wife, Mrs C.
Mr C complained that the Council did not carry out financial assessments correctly which resulted in the Council over charging Mrs C.
The Council provided Mrs C with care at home after she left hospital in late 2017.
Since then, the Council undertook numerous financial assessments. Between 2017 and when the complaint was brought (2019), Mrs C had had six different weekly calculations identified as her care contribution. Sometimes she was assessed as single person, and sometimes including Mr C’s finances.
The Council visited twice in this time period, to explain the charges. It explained that the charging rules allowed it to assess Mrs C as a single person if it resulted in her receiving a lower charge. It also spoke with workers from the Carers’ Unit and Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
However, Mr and Mrs C received numerous letters and amendments to Mrs C’s assessed contribution which caused them confusion. The Council said this was partly due to Mr C providing ‘piecemeal information’ and asking for the Council to carry out financial assessments for Mrs C as part of a couple.
Furthermore, the Council accepted that an error occurred between October 2018 and June 2019. This was because of a new computer system which failed to ignore the savings credit part of Mrs C’s income. During this period the Council accepted it overcharged Mrs C £18.24 each week.
Mr C brought forward a complaint because he wanted a correct invoice.
What was found
The LGO found that the Council was not at fault for treating Mrs C as a single person. The Council tried to explain the charges to Mr and Mrs C in writing, face-to-face and via different “advocates”, mainly because Mr C was confused about why the Council was treating Mrs C as a single person. The Council explained this was to Mrs C’s advantage as it reduced her charge. The LGO found no fault because it was part of the Council’s policy and financially benefited Mrs C to consider her as an individual.
The LGO did however find fault in the Council’s lack of transparency. It was unable to determine if Mrs C’s initial charges were correct, because the financial breakdown did not include certain information (whether the savings credit element was disregarded or not). Therefore the LGO stated there was not sufficient transparency, as required by the statutory guidance, which caused Mr and Mrs C uncertainty.
The Council accepted that Mrs C’s charges from October 2018 were wrong. The Council’s failure to monitor the implications of a new computer system was fault. As a result, Mr C became more confused and anxious that the Council was wrongly charging Mrs C.
The Council corrected the error and the most recent financial assessment included the savings credit element which was disregarded. It has also agreed to meet with Mr and Mrs C to complete a new financial assessment to make sure that it correctly recorded information. The LGO also recommended the Council make a payment of £200 to Mr C for the confusion and anxiety caused.
Points for the public, service users, and family members
The odd thing about this report is that it does not point out that it is the LAW that the ONLY person’s assets that are of relevance are those of the service user, for assessment of means purposes. The only situation in which it could ever be beneficial to a person to be assessed as part of a couple is where the service user has assets which they can show they are in the habit of using to subsidise someone else’s living expense, such as a spouse. IF a council were to take that feature of a couple’s habitual approach to coping with joint expenses, given their disparate financial circumstances, the council would have a discretion to disregard that part of the service user’s assets and therefore charge them less than they otherwise might.
So the focus should have been on what on earth the council was doing, doing it any other way? It does not follow from the possibility of looking at joint assets that any council can possibly have thought that there had to be a benefit to looking at a service user’s means ONLY before they could do that!
We are left in doubt as to what possible reason the man could have had to want his wife to be assessed on the basis of their joint position.
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The full Local Government Ombudsman report of Sheffield City Council’s actions can be found here