Council ordered to apologise over handling of disability support

County Hall in Norwich

A High Court challenge over changes made to disability support cost Norfolk County Council more than £120,000 - it can be revealed. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Norfolk County Council has been ordered to apologise over its handling of a claim for disability support after the mother of an autistic man complained to the Ombudsman.  

A range of issues in the council’s handling of Mr X and Ms C’s case were outlined by the local government and social care Ombudsman’s report.  

In particular, the report found the council gave “confusing information” regarding changes to the charging policy – how the council calculates the cost of council-provided care.  

The ombudsman’s ruling follows a high-profile court case last year that saw the council agree to repay £1m to vulnerable people after changes to the charge policy were found to be unintentionally discriminatory.  

More than 100 disabled people, their parents and carers gathered at a public meeting at County Hall

More than 100 disabled people, their parents and carers gathered at a public meeting at County Hall in July to protest against the increase in charges. Pic: Philip Williams - Credit: Philip Williams

The ombudsman also found the council had not properly considered the claimant’s disability-related expenditure (DRE) and caused avoidable distress by sending invoices to Mr X, who is not able to understand them.  

A report by the ombudsman said: “Ms C said a social worker told her the proposed changes [in charging policy] applied to charges to residential care.   

“This information was incorrect.”  

It added: “The Council has, in my view, given Ms C unhelpful and conflicting information about what can and can’t be DRE and this was fault.”  

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Ms C and Mr X had asked the council for support for kitchen safety items, a specialist calendar and a companion dog, but were told these do not come under DRE.  

“This was not correct as [statutory guidance] is clear that any item of expenditure connected to a person’s disability can be allowed as DRE, with evidence. It was fault to give inaccurate information,” the Ombudsman said.  

The council has been told to apologise to the family, consult with an occupational therapist about a companion dog and any other DRE items, and reassess Mr X’s DRE, backdating if necessary.  

A county council spokesperson said: “We’d like to apologise for the handling of Ms C’s claim for DRE on her son’s behalf, Mr X, and the consequences of this decision for Ms C and her son Mr X.   

“Since the Ombudsman’s decision we have apologised to Ms C and Mr X, completed a full reassessment of the support Mr X receives, and amended our records so that Ms C receives all financial correspondence on her son’s behalf.  

“The council is also currently reviewing its charging policy in light of the recent judicial review.” 

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