Ombudsman says county council at fault in disability related expenses case

Essex County Council has been found at fault in how it considered disability related expenses, according to an Ombudsman investigation.

A case investigated by the Ombudsman concerns two women who have court appointed deputies to make decisions about their financial affairs because their disabilities mean they cannot do this for themselves.

The fees charged by the deputies are more than the rate at which the council said its own deputy could perform the task. Because of this the council said it was not reasonable for it to treat the higher amount as disability related expenses (DRE).

As set out in the Care Act, councils should take into account expenses someone incurs directly related to a disability when assessing how much they should contribute towards their care.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found that because both deputy services were appointed by the court – it was not a case of the women wanting a more expensive service.

In addition, the council could only change the deputy acting on behalf of the women through an application to the court, so the council’s service was not reasonably available to the women, the investigation found.

Michael King, local Government and social care Ombudsman, said: “The council appears to be fettering its discretion when considering these women’s cases. The guidance says the council may decide not to allow DRE where a cheaper alternative is available.

“However, in these cases, the council appears to have decided that, as there is a cheaper option, it automatically means it will not allow the full fees, rather than considering the specific circumstances.

“I am pleased the council has agreed to revisit its assessment of the two women’s circumstances, and hope this will clarify their position regarding the expenses they are receiving.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public and adult social care services.

In this case the council has agreed to reconsider specifically whether the service fees are reasonable in the context of the service it provides to the two women as a private deputy.

Further, if the council considers the women should apply to have a council deputy appointed, it will need to factor the cost of this process into the financial assessment.

The council has also agreed to consider the policy reasons why a local authority may not be an appropriate alternative to the court-appointed service.

An Essex County Council spokesperson said: “Essex County Council has received this Local Government Ombudsman report and is considering the content of the report.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter