Elderly couple had £10,000 of debt and ‘felt institutionalised’ after council moved them into wrong accommodation
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Norfolk County Council failed to tell an elderly couple the cost of care they did not want, or need, leading them to rack up £10,000 worth of debt.
A ruling by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found the council carried out a 'flawed assessment of needs' before moving the couple, named only as Mr and Mrs X, into extra care accommodation and failed to tell them how much the new arrangement would cost for eight months.
The couple, who have been married for more than 50 years, lived in sheltered accommodation and Mr X was his wife's carer since she had a stroke in 2003.
But in 2016 Mr X contacted the council as he felt he needed some respite care, and thought moving to extra care accommodation might help.
However, when a social worker assessed the couple's needs on in August 2016 they only spoke to Mr X on the telephone, no one visited the couple, and records of the assessment said Mr X only wanted occasional assistance.
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Despite this, they were moved into care which involved more day-to-day support.
After they moved, Mr X complained several times about the accommodation and turned carers away as he did not need them. The ombudsman's ruling said: 'He felt he and his wife had been institutionalised.'
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A further telephone assessment was carried out in December 2016 but it was not until September the next year, nine months later, that their needs were observed in person and it was decided they did not need the extra care.
However, in the meantime, the couple had been accruing debt for charges they did not know they were liable for.
While they had been aware their rent would increase from £400 a month to £700 a month in the new accommodation, it took the council eight months from Mr X signing forms to confirm they would be funding themselves to inform them there was an extra £1,000 in fees to pay.
The couple complained about this in July 2017, and received no reply, so resent their complaint in August.
The ombudsman said: 'Mr X describes the letter the council sent telling them they owed almost £10,000 since October 2017 as a shock. He says he has been worried by the debt ever since, but particularly in the period before they moved out of the extra care accommodation.
'I have seen the letter and can understand Mr X's reaction to it. This is the more so because the evidence strongly suggests Mr and Mrs X would not have agreed to move if they had known the monthly cost of £1700.'
The ombudsman pointed out the couple declined the care even before they knew what they were being asked to pay but were stuck in the accommodation as housing authorities would not take them until they had been there a year.
Now, the ombudsman has told the council it must carry out assessments face-to-face and carry out financial assessments quicker.
The council was also told to waive the care charges, apologise to Mr and Mrs X, and pay them £1,147 for their removal costs and distress.
A council spokesman said: 'We fully accept the recommendations of the ombudsman, and have put them in place. We have compensated and apologised to Mr and Mrs X, and consider the matter resolved.'