The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman is cautioning councils against allowing the care homes they work with to have subsidiary contracts with clients following a complaint about Leeds City Council.
The warning comes after it became clear the council had allowed Indigo Care Services Ltd to have a second contract with a woman it had placed in the provider’s Paisley Lodge home.
The woman’s family complained to the Ombudsman about a number of issues. These included their mother looking unkempt during one visit, items of clothing and other possessions going missing, and only being allowed ‘window visits’ at certain times during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The family also said the payment and funding arrangements were confusing. The Ombudsman’s investigation found that, between June and November 2020, the care home had a second contract in place with the family to make up the difference between what it charged the council for the woman’s care, and its private rate. This was contrary to statutory guidance.
The Ombudsman upheld the family’s complaints about the care home’s delay in registering the mother with a GP, and about her standard of appearance and missing possessions. It did not uphold the complaint about visiting arrangements during the pandemic.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
“The woman’s family were given no choice but to sign the second contract with the home as a condition of acceptance of the care home placement, with the council’s full knowledge this was taking place. At the time, it was the council’s responsibility – not the family’s – to arrange their mother’s care, so they should not have been asked to do this.
“This has caused unnecessary distress and confusion for the family at what was already a difficult time.
“I am pleased the council and care provider have both agreed to my recommendations to improve their contracting arrangements so in future other families are not caused the same frustration.”
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman remedies injustice and shares learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council and care provider have agreed to apologise to the family.
The council and care home will each pay the family £300 in recognition of the distress and time and trouble caused.
The council and care home will pay £200 and £100 respectively to the mother’s estate for her lost clothing and possessions. The council will also refund the mother’s estate £173 per week for the time she entered the care home until 8 November 2020. The care home will refund £33 per week for the same period, offset against the outstanding invoice for charges.
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to end the practice of allowing providers to enter into contracts with clients or their families to make additional charges for care that run alongside the council’s own contracts.
It will also review its financial assessments practice to avoid delays in the process.
The care home will review its contract’s standard terms and conditions around notice periods, and remove or revise any clause that refers to shortfalls between the rate paid by the local authority and its ‘full amount charges’