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Southampton City Council ordered to pay back pensioner's care fees
THE local government watchdog has criticised Southampton City Council for wrongly charging an elderly woman's family thousands of pounds in “top-up” fees for residential care in breach of Government rules.
The council has been ordered to refund top-up fees of £187 a week for a nursing home the woman was moved into when she left hospital after suffering a stroke. The refund, dating back to July last year, could top £10,000.
The Local Government Ombudsman said it had not been made aware of similar cases at the council.
It means the council, and possibly others around the country, may now have to negotiate new fee arrangements with care homes to avoid being landed with hefty top-up bills where there are no rooms at the amount the council usually pays.
It comes as many care homes providers are complaining they are being squeezed by councils on the amount they get paid to take residents.
Giving evidence to the Local Government Ombudsman the woman's daughter said they could not find a place at a home at the council's “usual rate”, then £454, that met her mother's assessed needs for dementia and nursing care.
The family had to choose a home where the rates were higher, £750, but lodged a complaint when the council charged them top-up fees.
The Local Government Ombudsman found the council was guilty of maladministration causing injustice.
In her report Dr Jane Marti said: “Because no accommodation was available at the council's 'usual rate', (under Government guidelines) the council should have paid to accommodate the woman elsewhere and should not have sought additional fees beyond the assessed contribution.”
Southampton City Council said it had accepted the Ombudsman's findings and has agreed to pay the full cost of the woman's care, less her assessed contribution of £149, and refund the overcharged “top-up” fees with interest.
It has also agreed to pay £500 compensation for the time, trouble and distress caused to the family.
The council has also agreed to review its own procedures and negotiate overspill placements at its “usual rate” with care homes.
Anne Carty, Chief Officer of Age Concern Southampton, said: “I'm pleased with the outcome of this case and hopefully no more will come out of the woodwork.
“The growing demand on residential care both now and in the future reinforce the need to review and improve procedures and joint working to ensure cases like this are not repeated.”
Dr Marti said she decided to publish a report in the public interest because councils across the country are faced with similar situations.
The council could not confirm last night whether it had overcharged other residents.
In a statement Cabinet member for adult services Councillor Matthew Stevens said the council had worked hard to put the problems right, apologised to the family and would be “recompensing them accordingly.”
Cllr Stevens said at the time the council had “safeguarding issues with a big provider” and fewer homes were willing to accept the council's rates as they had been “slightly” lowered.
He added the council had since increased payment rates for some areas of care and was “working closely with care providers to review fees and fee levels and to arrange short term placements at homes with our usual rate.”