Almost 150 of the most severely disabled people in Lancashire have been repaid over £575,000 after being overcharged for their care by Lancashire County Council.
The authority reassessed payments made under the Independent Living Fund (ILF) following a watchdog ruling which concluded that the council had miscalculated the contribution one of its residents had to make towards the cost of their care.
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The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) ordered a review of almost 300 other cases, nearly half which were found to have been affected by a similar mistake. Details were included in the authority's Social Care Annual Report 2017/18.
The LGO originally investigated a complaint brought by the husband of a woman referred to as Mrs. X, who required round-the-clock care as a result of a brain injury. As well as being overcharged, her income was allowed to fall below the legally-required minimum by almost £100 per month.
Until June 2015, the ILF was a government-administered scheme awarded to those judged to have ‘high support needs’ in order to be able to live in the community rather than residential care.
Discretionary ILF payments were made in addition to any care packages supplied to an individual by their local authority. Both ILF and local care arrangements required a so-called ‘client contribution’ based on the financial circumstances of the person in receipt of the help.
Responsibility for the payments was passed to local authorities to enable all care assessment and charging to be brought under a single regime. But county hall continued to apply Mrs. X’s contribution at the ILF rate, rather than carrying out a reassessment of her overall package of care once it had been brought under the council’s control.
Mr. X complained to the authority in April 2016, when Lancashire County Council upheld his complaint verbally and promised to review his wife’s contributions. But the reassessment did not take place until December 2016, when the council reached the same conclusion - that Mrs. X should be contributing £99 per week.
Yet within three months of the case being taken to the LGO, the authority reviewed Mrs. X’s case again and decided that her weekly contribution should actually be just £20.
The Ombudsman concluded that the council had demonstrated “poor complaint handling” and provided no explanation as to “why it had undertaken two...reassessments, reaching two different conclusions, only two months apart”.
In a statement, Lancashire County Council said: "When the council took on responsibility for the Independent Living Fund in 2015, [it] continued the charging method adopted [previously] by the Department for Work and Pensions. However, the Ombudsman found that the council should have used the more generous charging arrangements that it applied to its adult social care service users.
“As part of the report recommendations, the council undertook some further work. 143 service users were identified as having been overcharged - therefore £577,247.37 was specifically paid out in reimbursements to the relevant people as a result of the findings in this report."
County hall was also ordered to apologise to Mr. X and pay £300 in recognition of his time and trouble in bringing the complaint against the authority.