Council wrongly charged family top-up fee for care home

File photo: Norfolk County Council was criticised by the watchdog for charging a top-up fee for a ca

File photo: Norfolk County Council was criticised by the watchdog for charging a top-up fee for a care home. Picture: Getty Images/Fuse - Credit: Getty Images/Fuse

A council is investigating whether care home residents have been wrongly charged after it mistakenly made one family pay extra fees.

Watchdog, the Local Government Ombudsman, ruled Norfolk County Council incorrectly charged a top-up fee to one family whose mum went into care. The council has now agreed to see if it incorrectly charged other families and review its service.

When the family placed their mother in a care home, and needed to sell her house to pay for the care, the council should have offered the woman an affordable care home.

This would mean that the family would not have to pay a top-up fee for the first 12 weeks of care while they were selling the home.

If people have less than £23,250 in assets, the council should offer them an affordable care home.

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But the value of their home should not be taken into account when working out if they have less than £23,250 for the first 12 weeks of them moving into a care home.

But instead the council charged the family in 2016 for those first 12 weeks, wrongly arguing that because the woman's capital, including her home, was above the £23,250 threshold; it did not have to offer her an affordable placement.

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The family complained to the ombudsman and after their investigation the council has agreed to waive the fee, and to check if they have charged other people in the county in error.

It has also agreed to improve the information it gives to families and pay the woman's son £300 for distress caused.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King, said: 'I am pleased Norfolk council has agreed to the remedy, and hope the recommendations made will improve services and the information provided to many people at what is often a difficult and stressful time for families.'

The son said the council did not give him any handbook or guides about charging or top-up fees at care homes, meaning he chose a home that was too expensive, thinking the council would help pay for the first 12 weeks.

He went on to find a care home for £725 a week, believing the council would pay £460 a week to it and not realising he would have to pay an additional top-up fee of £252 a week.

He said if had been given the correct information by the council he would not have placed his mother in such an expensive home.

The council has apologised and waived the top up-fee for the 12 weeks.

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said: 'We acknowledge the distress and worry which was caused as a result of an error on our part and have apologised unreservedly.

'We fully respect the outcome of the Local Government Ombudsman investigation and have agreed to take action which the Ombudsman regards as providing a satisfactory remedy for the complaint.

'While we had already waived the top up fee, we will be putting in place new measures, including reviewing our guidance and training for staff to ensure lessons are learned.

'We will also be reviewing whether there have been similar cases, in the last 12 months. This review is underway and we will be reporting our findings to the ombudsman in late spring/early summer.'

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