Councils have been warned by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman of their duties under the Care Act to administer care home top-up fees.
The warning came after Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and Lincolnshire County Councils disputed Ombudsman recommendations against them.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Councils are encouraged to administer the top-up fees, and recoup the money from relatives, because it gives the best security for vulnerable people living in care homes should there be any problems with payments.”
Dudley Council challenged the Ombudsman after he recommended it consider stopping asking relatives to reach an agreement with the care home to pay their full fees rather than administer the funding itself and claim the money from relatives.
The council argued it would cost too much to administer the charges and this did not give the relative a choice of who to pay. It also argued that other councils followed the same practices.
Councillor Nicholas Barlow, cabinet member for adult social care, said: “While we take the recommendations of the Ombudsman seriously and have adhered to almost all of them, having taken legal advice we are confident our processes are appropriate and are in the best interests of all parties. If we were to change the way we administer top-up fees, it could have a real detrimental impact on the council’s finances.”
Lincolnshire County Council also does not give people the option to pay the top-up fee to the council arguing it would cost too much to administer and its use of care homes to carry out the function was acceptable.
Glen Garrod, executive director for adult care and community wellbeing, said: “The council has made great strides over the last year in developing its systems and processes to improve our customer’s experience around financial assessments. We continue to implement a programme of improvements and, as part of an already planned review, over the next four months we will consider the position of third party top-up fees in accordance with the Ombudsman’s recommendations.”
The Ombudsman said citing financial costs as a reasons for departing from the guidance was “irrelevant”, adding: “At the heart of the matter, we have two councils absolving themselves of their responsibilities to offer the public its basic protections set out in law.
“I now call on both authorities to reconsider both my reports and make the necessary arrangements to ensure they comply with the recommendations I have set out.”