Councils across England are being reminded by the local government Ombudsman of their duties under the Care Act to administer ‘top-up fees’ for people contributing towards relatives’ care.
Top-up fees are the difference someone - often a relative - chooses to pay for a loved-one’s stay in a care home over and above the amount the council has agreed to pay.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s warning comes after two councils - Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and Lincolnshire County Council - disputed some of the Ombudsman’s recommendations against them.
The Ombudsman found that Dudley council had been asking relatives to enter into an agreement with the care home to pay the amount as standard practice, rather than administer the funding itself and claim the money from the relatives.
In response to the Ombudsman’s recommendation that the local authority stop this practice, Dudley council argued it would cost too much to administer the changes and that it did not have to give the relative a choice of who to pay.
Cllr Nicholas Barlow, cabinet member for adult social care at Dudley council, 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.’
In Lincolnshire, the Ombudsman found the local authority did not give people the option to pay the top-up fee to the council. They argued it would cost too much to change the current approach.
‘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,’ said Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
‘The reasons both councils have given for departing from the Guidance – the financial cost of doing things properly – is irrelevant. 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.
‘We also issued guidance to councils back in 2015 on administering these fees, and were quite clear that leaving the administration of top-up fees to care homes was wrong.
‘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.’