Norfolk County Council at fault for failing to give full and proper information regarding the cost of care and for not checking the care provider’s invoices

Decision date: 3/1/20

What happened

Mr K had been assessed by Norfolk Council as needing 7 hours of home care per week, split into 30 minute visits twice a day, which began in February 2018. The Council did not complete a financial assessment for Mr K until April 2018, when it was decided that his maximum contribution would be £81 per week. The charges were backdated to late February and increased to £96 from April onwards. They were then reduced to £60 per week until the end of May.

Mr K gave notice for the care being provided to stop, when he received the invoices, as the staff employed by the provider only stayed for 10 minutes on average. He did not feel as though he should pay for an hour’s care a day when in reality he was receiving less. Mr K agreed to pay for the care he had actually received but claimed that the Council had failed to tell him that he was to pay for the service.

The Council explained that the charges were due to an increase in Mr K’s personal contribution because of a reduction in his Disability Related Expenditure. It claimed that the amount of hours of care that Mr K fluctuated weekly and that he was rarely invoiced for the full amount. It also claimed to have confirmed the accuracy of the invoices with the care provider.

What was found

The Ombudsman found no fault in the time it took the Council to complete Mr K’s financial assessment or the delay in telling him about the charges.

The Council provided log sheets from the care provider which confirmed that there were inconsistencies between the amount of care provided and the amount of care charged for. This meant that the Council did overcharge Mr K several times, which is fault that amounts to injustice.

Furthermore, the Ombudsman found that the care provider had been rounding up the amount of time its staff had worked to the nearest 15 minutes. This in itself was not fault but it needed to have been explained to Mr K and the Council was not able to provide evidence that it had done so.

The Council’s claims that it had confirmed the accuracy of the hours worked by the care provider staff were false. The Ombudsman found the Council at fault for not properly checking the invoices, and this fault led to an injustice to Mr K.

Remedies

The Council has agreed that within 6 weeks, it will:

  • Review charges and provide an invoice for the actual hours worked. This invoice should charge a maximum of 15 minutes per visit due to the Council’s failure to properly explain the charges to Mr K.
  • Pay Mr K £50 for his time and trouble

Points for the public, council staff and charging officers

If this man was due to be having 7 hours of care a week, and the maximum he was assessed to have to pay was £96 a week, that is a charge of £13.71 an hour in early 2018.

That means that he was assessed to be a full cost payer, or very close to being a full cost payer (full cost meaning the full cost of the service as commissioned by the council.

If he received say only 3.5 hours a week, at £13.71, by ensuring that nobody ever stayed longer than 15 minutes, but was charged according to his charging assessment, he would then have been charged more by the council than the cost of what he had received, at that rate, in which case, that was unlawful, because there is an absolute prohibition on charging more than the cost of the service!

The LGO was told that the council had checked the invoices and that the charges levied had been correct but the LGO was obliged to disagree, having looked at them. So the charging officers were mistaken, at best.

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The full Local Government Ombudsman report on the actions of Norfolk County Council can be found here:

https://www.lgo.org.uk/decisions/adult-care-services/charging/19-009-101

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