Ombudsman urges council to review all of its residential care placements since 2020 after it determined that the local authority had wrongly charged a man top-up fees for his mother’s care.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found that Dudley Metropolitan Borough council had not offered ‘genuine choice after it failed to present an available care home placement for his mother, where the cost was within the personal budget. This left him no option but to pay top-up fees.
The Care Act’s statutory guidance says that councils “must ensure that the person has a genuine choice of accommodation” where it has been determined that a person’s needs are best met in a care home. This means that there must be an available and affordable option within the person’s personal budget.
A previous investigation in 2017 uncovered similar failings within Dudley council and the Ombudsman expressed concern that these issues had reoccurred, with the council “appearing to have again failed to offer a placement that did not need a top-up”.
As a result, the Ombudsman, Michael King was concerned that the nature of the council’s failings around top-up fees could have affected more service users and directed that complaints from families not offered an alternative placement within their personal budget, at any time since the 2017 investigation must be assessed according to “the same principles.”
Mr King added, “In 2017 the council agreed to improve the way it dealt with third-party top-up fees and I am concerned they has not fully learned from this and we have had to issue this second report.”
Dudley council has accepted the ombudsman’s recommendations and volunteered to make further changes including staff training and procedural changes.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman look at individual complaints about councils, adult social care providers, including care homes and home care agencies, and some other organisations providing local public services. They offer a free service to investigate complaints in a fair and independent way. Their published findings offer a useful reference point on many of the day-to-day issues of social care.