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LGO warns councils over care payment cuts

Councils should not reduce the amount they pay for care home placements and leave families to find the difference where there are funding agreements already in place for a particular level of care, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has stated. 

The LGO, Dr Jane Martin, has advised councils that they cannot “significantly” change contractual funding arrangements for current care home residents because they alter the way they commission care. 

The advice follows an investigation where the LGO found fault in the way Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council acted when it changed its care commissioning arrangements. 

A man complained to the LGO that his mother – who was 80 and had dementia – had to pay significant additional costs every week to remain in the home she had lived in for the past three years. 

When the council reviewed the way it commissioned placements, the home in which the man’s mother lived was excluded from a new quality framework, despite meeting the set criteria. As a result, the council reduced the amount paid to ‘off framework’ homes and there was a shortfall in the amount paid to the care home, which the family had to make up. 

The LGO has recommended the council reimburse the woman’s estate the full amount of the third party top-up payments, apologise to her son and pay him £250 in recognition of the time and trouble he has gone to in bringing the complaint. 

Dr Martin said: “I urge all authorities to look very closely at their plans, if they are changing care commissioning in their area, to ensure that no vulnerable residents are placed in a similar position.” 

An LGO investigation also highlighted that potentially a further 160 older people and their families across the area could be similarly affected. In response to this, Tameside council has also been requested to review the individual cases of other affected residents and consider whether a similar remedy is appropriate. 

But a spokesperson for Tameside Council disputes the LGO’s findings. They told PSE: “The council reviewed its commissioning arrangements to ensure that only those homes that offered the highest standard of care get paid a quality premium rate.  This was not about cost-cutting.  

“The council categorically denies that it has not acted in accordance with the law.  Unfortunately, the premature publication of the report by the Ombudsman has prejudiced the council from challenging the report in the High Court in the interests of residents. 

“Tameside Council continues to pay one of the highest care and nursing fees across the north west of England to support the most vulnerable in our community. The purpose of this change, made in 2012, was to raise and maintain the quality of care in Tameside care homes whilst ensuring they remained financially sustainable. This was a priority for the Council following National scandals of poor and failing quality of care in homes such as Winterbourne, Bristol, and the terrible impact on many frail elderly residents as a consequence of the Southern Cross Homes going bust.” 

He added that the report accuses the council of excluding the home from the higher quality framework, despite meeting the set criteria. But he argues that the home in question was excluded from the quality framework precisely because it did not meet the 70% quality criteria required by the council, which was “devised through a transparent and open process accepted by the Ombudsman in their report as fair”.   

PSE was also told that the Ombudsman’s suggestion that there is a wider impact because 160 residents may be affected is inaccurate.  “The information provided by the council makes clear that the number at its highest is no more than 10, who we are in the process of writing to directly,” he said. 

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