North Yorkshire Council has been obliged to pay about £17,000 of taxpayers’ money to a residential care home patient after it was found to have failed to use the correct language when explaining her charges.
The authority has also been recommended to pay the patient’s son £350 “to recognise the distress and anxiety caused” by its decision to treat monetary gifts to her children and grandchildren as capital that should be included when assessing how long she should be responsible for the full cost of her care.
Who should pay for social care remains a pressing issue with the council spending £230m a year on adult social care, equating to about 40 per cent of the authority’s budget.
This year it has received £19m additional grants from the government, but the council has spent an extra £36m on adult social care services.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said it had “found fault causing injustice” and to remedy the injustice by completing a financial assessment calculating when her capital would have fallen below the £23,250 threshold under which people pay the full costs of their care.
It also recommended the council reviews the financial assessments completed for other service users over the last 12 months where gifting was not deemed to be depriving the public purse of assets.
While the Care Act 2014 states people should be able to spend the money they have saved as they wish, rules also state councils should ensure people are not rewarded for trying to avoid paying their assessed contribution.
Councils must therefore assess a person to decide whether they have intentionally deprived themselves of assets to avoid paying care fees, for example by making a lump sum payment to someone else as a gift.
The ombudsman’s report states the woman in care had previously gifted no more than £20 a gift to her family, but in the two and a half years following the sale of her property she gifted £19,500.
It is understood the officer who dealt with the assessment had been trying not to inflame a “deprivation of assets” situation, and did not use those words when spelling out the reason for taking extra money from the woman.
Councillor Michael Harrison, executive member for health and adult services, said: “We accept the fault that the ombudsman identified in the language we used. We need to be very careful if we’re going to make an assessment that someone has deprived themselves of capital to avoid paying social care fees that we are explicit in the language we use.”
The authority undertakes an average of 6,000 financial assessments every year.
Coun Harrison said: “Whilst we accept the ombudsman’s findings, we did disagree that this should be a public report.
“It has cost the taxpayer around £17,000, which is disappointing. It is a costly couple of words, but we are also mindful that we are dealing with people in sensitive circumstances and circumstances that can be quite emotional where people are having to look at their relatives’ finances in quite a cold way.
“Council officers will quite rightly want to treat people with respect, with empathy and due consideration. The learning here is that must not lead us to using words that a family may find difficult if we use if it’s going to cost the taxpayer money.”