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Ombudsman finds council wrong for automatically reducing disability-related expenses where a cheaper option was available

17 June 2021

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found Essex County Council at fault in how it considered two separate women’s Disability Related Expenses (DREs).

The women both 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 a DRE.

Under 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 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.

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.”

The council has now agreed to reconsider specifically whether the Service’s fees are reasonable in the context of the service it provides to the two women as a private deputy.

In addition, if the council considers the women should apply to have a council deputy appointed, it will also 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.

The Ombudsman’s report  is available from lgo.org

See also our Non-Residential Charges: Paying towards the cost of your care and support at home factsheet available from disabilityrightsuk.org.

 Note: DR UK member Inclusion London has launched a petition calling on the Government to abolish social care charging as part of social care reform.

 You can sign the petition here