Councils reminded of top-up fees responsibility

Councils across England are being reminded by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman of their duties under the Care Act to administer ‘top-up fees’ for people contributing towards relatives’ care.

The warning comes after two councils – Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, and Lincolnshire County Council – disputed some of the Ombudsman’s recommendations against them.

In the case of Dudley, the Ombudsman found the council, as standard practice, had been asking relatives to enter into an agreement with the care home to pay the amount, rather than administer the funding itself and claim the money from the relatives.

In Lincolnshire, the Ombudsman found the council did not give people the option to pay the top-up fee to the council.  

The Care Act says that only with the consent of the people involved, and the care home, should someone pay a top-up fee direct to the care home. It also says this method is not recommended. By leaving top-up fee contracts to be agreed directly between people and care providers, it can potentially leave people vulnerable to the risk of fee increases. It also devolves the responsibility to collect any unpaid fees to the care provider sector.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “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.”

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