A failure to keep proper records over who should have paid for the care of thousands of people in Norfolk means a council is set to lose almost £2.5m.

At a time when taxpayers across Norfolk are paying extra council tax to cover rising costs of adult social care, County Hall and NHS chiefs have been rowing over who should shoulder the bill for care given over the past five years.

It has emerged invoices for care, stretching back to 2018, have been at the centre of disputes over whether Norfolk County Council or the NHS should have paid for people's care.

That has triggered months of wrangling. The result is that Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care Board will pay the county council £5.95m, while the council is paying the NHS just over £1m.

Eastern Daily Press: Norfolk County Council is to write off £2.5m because of a row with NHS bosses over care paymentsNorfolk County Council is to write off £2.5m because of a row with NHS bosses over care payments (Image: Mike Page)

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But a further £2.4m the county council claims it is owed by health bosses will be written off - because the NHS disputes it and refuses to pay.

Council bosses insist they can cover that loss from other funds and that it will have no impact on adult social care - a department that has had to make millions of pounds of savings in recent years.

However, opposition councillors have slammed the lack of oversight which led to the position.

Eastern Daily Press: Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County CouncilSteve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County Council (Image: Archant)

Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group at County Hall, said he was "shocked and bewildered" at how such a situation had been allowed to happen.

He said: "I understand they want to draw a line under it, but we need to understand how and why this happened.

"The amount of money they are writing off is enough to pay for more than 100,000 hours of valuable care."

READ MORE: Norfolk County Council needs to plug £42.6m budget gap

The backdrop is that each year the NHS transfers up to £90m to the county council.

The council uses that to pay for care and run services which support the health and social care system. It has received about £400m since 2018.

A process is supposed to check invoices for care are raised appropriately - figuring out what elements of care should have the cost covered by the council and which by the NHS.

But, amid the Covid pandemic and a string of shake-ups within the NHS, the picture has become muddled and debts - on both sides - built up.

It is understood that, at one point earlier this year, almost £40m of debt had been accrued, although negotiations reduced that significantly.

Eastern Daily Press: Negotiations have taken place between Norfolk County Council and the NHS over care costsNegotiations have taken place between Norfolk County Council and the NHS over care costs (Image: Unison)

Officers said the changes within the NHS had "led to some loss of knowledge of the agreements which formed the basis for raising invoices".

They added: "With many thousands of such individual instances, changing organisations and changing financial and process systems, it has not been possible to track and reconcile all the transactions."

Eastern Daily Press: Alison Thomas, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for adult social careAlison Thomas, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for adult social care (Image: Archant)

Alison Thomas, the council's cabinet member for adult social care said it had been a "pragmatic" decision to accept the £2.4m write-off in order to maintain a good relationship with the NHS.

The council could take legal action, but the Conservative-controlled cabinet is likely to rule that out when it discusses the issue at a meeting next month, instead focussing on preventing a repeat.

READ MORE: Norfolk council tax increase of 4.99pc

But Mrs Thomas acknowledged how the situation will look to taxpayers whom the council has repeatedly asked to pay extra on their council tax bill specifically for adult social care.

She said: "The county council has done the right thing, as the people who needed care over the last five years received it - even if we hadn’t been fully reimbursed by the NHS.

"We are taking a pragmatic decision to draw a line under this and ensure that the council and NHS continue providing care to those who need it and continue the positive partnership working that has developed over the years."

A spokesperson for NHS Norfolk and Waveney, said: "Like many other areas across the country, Norfolk and Waveney, has a high proportion of people who have complex health and social care needs.

"The last few years have been extremely challenging for all health and social care services across the country.

"One of our key priorities locally is to help ensure people are able to leave hospital as quickly as possible, with the appropriate support they need.

"We will continue to work with Norfolk County Council and other organisations across our health and care system to ensure residents receive the care and support they need, at the right time and right place."

ANALYSIS

It is shocking that, over the past five years, Norfolk County Council and the NHS have got in such a muddle over who should have been paying for care for the county's vulnerable people.

The two organisations have been involved in a major dispute over which of them should have covered the cost of care which thousands of people benefited from.

Looking on the positive side, the good news is that these people, who were entitled to care, did get it. People did not miss out because of this issue.

But it rather beggars belief that it has proved so difficult for the organisations to agree who should have picked up the bill for that care.

The council says part of the problem is that the NHS has undergone so many changes.

Here in Norfolk, we went from having several care commissioning groups to just one. And now everything has changed again, with the formation of the integrated care board.

It seems that records were not properly kept about agreements between the NHS and County Hall about who should be paying for what - and that has led to disputes over invoices.

The issue is now close to being settled after months of negotiations. The NHS will pay the council nearly £6m and the council will give the NHS just over a million.

But £2.4m will be simply written off. Given the sums of money spent in adult social care that is only a fraction of the budget - but to the taxpayers of Norfolk it remains a significant amount.

The council says that is a pragmatic approach. The authority could have employed lawyers to chase the money, but, given County Hall needs to keep working with the health service, it would just add cost and increase hostility.

But it rather sticks in the throat that the county council, underfunded by central government when it comes to providing care, keeps increasing council tax, with a share of that specifically for adult social care.

The writing off of millions of pounds because of accounting failures will not sit well with those taxpayers who part with their pounds to cover rising costs of care.