Cambridgeshire Council at fault for not recognising legitimate disability related expenses

Decision Date: 13th January 2020

What Happened

Mr Y complained on behalf of Mr X.

Mr X lived alone, and had received informal care from Mr Y, his friend, and from the Council through a local agency since 2008.

Mr X was asked in 2011 to contribute towards the cost of his care. Mr X complained about the decision, as his income was made up solely of benefits, to the Council, and it did not pursue him for payment.

In May 2017 the Council realised it had not carried out a financial assessment for Mr X since 2011, so asked him to complete one.

Mr X found the assessment form difficult as none of the examples of disability related expenses (DRE) were relevant to him. Mr Y helped him with the assessment which concluded Mr X should contribute towards his care costs.

In March 2018 the Council carried out another financial assessment for Mr X following an increase in his ESA. After deducting the DRE and other relevant allowances, Mr X was left with an assessable income of £22.44. The Council said he should contribute this amount towards his care.

Mr Y complained to the Council saying Mr X’s income was spent entirely on costs related to his disabilities so he should not have to contribute to the cost of his care.

The Council disagreed and it excluded the following expenses from its assessment of Mr X’s DRE:

  • credit Card debt (total debit £700) – Mr Y explained that Mr X makes compulsive purchases owing to his conditions;
  • caravan storage (£450 annually) – Mr Y explained that Mr X’s hobby of restoring caravans aided his wellbeing;
  • Asperger’s equipment as recommended by Mr X’s counsellor (£50 per fortnight); and
  • additional food and drink related to his OCD (£15 per week) – Mr X drinks milks and juice compulsively and orders takeaways as he is not confident using the kitchen.

Mr Y complained again, stating

  • it was wrong for the Council to start charging Mr X for his care when it had not previously done so
  • yearly financial assessments were intrusive and unnecessary as Mr X’s situation will not alter;
  • the DRE form was not tailored for Mr X’s needs and so he found it difficult to engage with it;
  • all of Mr X’s income was spent on his disabilities and so he should not have to contribute to his care costs;

During the investigation Mr X received a letter threatening him with recovery action for non-payment of the contributions the Council said he should make.

After LGO enquiries, the Council accepted that Mr X’s expenses in respect of caravan storage and food and drink should have been included in his DRE allowance. It included them so Mr X is no longer required to contribute towards his care costs. It apologised for and said it cancelled the outstanding invoices.

What was found

The Council was not at fault for doing yearly financial assessments (after 2017), despite Mr X finding them intrusive. However, the LGO suggested the Council adopt their ‘light touch approach’. These can be used when a person has an income which means they would not be able to contribute towards their care costs.

Mr X’s income was made up entirely of benefits and after deducting his DRE expenses he did not need to contribute towards the cost of his care. It seems unlikely his position would alter soon and so the LGO considered that was a good grounds for the Council adopting the light touch approach in the future.

Mr Y said the Council had been wrong to continue disputing that Mr X’s income was used to entirely fund expenses related to his disabilities given it changed its mind in the end. Mr X did not provide the Council with any new information to enable it to revise its position and so the LGO considered it could have reached this decision sooner. Its failure to do so placed Mr X under the unnecessary pressure of dealing with the matter and of receiving letters about recovery action.

The LGO stated that the Council should have included expenses for Mr X’s consumptions of juice and milk and those related to his caravan as part of his DRE. Its failure to do so was fault, and placed Mr X under unnecessary pressure of dealing with the matter and of receiving letters about recovery action.

Points for the public and service users – and charging officers

The definition of DRE is for a council subject to the regulations and the duty to disregard them. The report conveys the impression that the officers simply refused to engage on instances of claimed DRE simply failed to match the ones on the council’s list.

The report made it clear that the more successful use of the man’s own money on things outside the care plan, rather than the things that it was agreed he did need, would be ensured by the conclusion that the cost of those outside things was ultimately agreed to be DRE.

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The full Local Government Ombudsman report of Cambridgeshire County Council’s actions can be found here