Councils must offer affordable options when arranging care homes for families
When arranging care, councils must offer families the option of a nursing or care home placement which does not need a top-up fee, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has said, following an investigation into Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council.
The investigation involved a Solihull family who paid a top-up fee for three years for their father’s care. The family should not have been asked to pay this additional fee.
The case is another example of people across the country being given insufficient information to be able to make informed choices about their care. This is a problem which the LGO continues to see and which it highlighted in a Focus Report in September 2015.
In the Solihull investigation, a man went into a nursing home temporarily in September 2007.
Before he moved into the home, the council contacted 13 nursing homes on the family’s behalf to check if they had any vacancies. Only one of those homes it spoke to on the list accepted its standard rate. This home did not have a room available for the man at the time.
This meant that the family only had the choice of homes which required a top-up fee. They were unaware the council should not have charged them a top-up if there were no homes available at its standard rate.
When the council decided the man needed to live permanently in a nursing home it again failed to help the family find a home that did not require a top-up.
Three years later the man’s daughter told the council it would be difficult for the family to continue paying the top-up fee, but did not want her father to be moved because she feared it would be detrimental to his health.
The council agreed to consider paying the top-up fee and in the process contacted local nursing homes, one of which did not need a top-up fee and had a room available. Because the family refused to move the man from his home the council decided not to pay the top-up.
The council should have then conducted an assessment of the man’s needs and assessed the risk of moving him to determine whether he could be moved to a more affordable home.
The council now agrees that it was wrong to charge a top-up when the man first moved into the nursing home as no alternative was given to the family that did not require a top-up. It has offered to refund the top-up paid by the family till the placement was made permanent in October 2007. It does not accept it was at fault from that point afterwards.
Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:
“When arranging care, councils must offer families an affordable alternative to a placement which requires a top-up fee. If no placements are available in their area that do not require a top-up then councils must fund the top-up themselves.
“In this case, no affordable placement was offered and the family was not made aware that such an alternative should have been available to them.
“I would urge Solihull council to act upon my recommendations and consider the lessons from our focus report.”
The LGO has recommended the council apologises to the daughter and refund the top-up fees she has paid along with £300 for the time and trouble she has gone to in bringing the complaint to the Ombudsman.
The Focus Report is available at: www.lgo.org.uk/publications
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