Thanks to My London news and reporter Joe Coughlan, read Emma’s story below.
WinVisible says: Our member Emma is severely disabled and won reduced care charges down to £4.19 a week, from £48.27, with our support. She is due a cash refund from Bromley Council. Bromley has privatised who decides care charges, so people have to deal with for-profit company Liberata, not directly-employed council staff. This approach is similar to privatised disability benefit assessments. Emma’s case is not resolved as the decision Liberata eventually made about Emma’s charges only applies from April onwards, and Liberata says the council’s debt Recovery Department is separate to them. We want to seek independent advice.
South London mum told she owes over £2k after council blunder
The mum said the situation was ‘beyond cruel’ and left her anxious
By Joe Coughlan Local Democracy Reporter 22 AUG 2023 MyLondon
A disabled South London mum said she felt ‘cornered and horrified’ as she feared the council would wrongly send bailiffs to her door for unpaid home care charges.
A mum living with mobility issues in Bromley claims she has been mistakenly asked to contribute to her care charges, which should be covered by the council. Emma, who did not wish to give her surname, lives in Beckenham. The mum said she has not been able to professionally work since 1999 due to her hypermobility as a result of lupus. She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “I have problems with hypermobility which means that I can fall over. I can lose balance very easily.” The mum said her condition has required her to have carers assisting her in the house daily since 2001. This included a carer living with her for 11 years during a particularly bad flare up. The resident also had visits up to four times a day for a period in 2021 after she fractured her leg when she slipped in her kitchen. The mum said the price of such homecare was originally covered by Bromley Council, until she received a letter asking her to contribute to the care charges in 2021.
Emma said: “From being quite fairly independent, I then needed help from the council for several months… I would have carers coming along daily to help me for many years and I was never charged for that ever, and then all of a sudden in 2021, I’m being asked to make a contribution.”
Mum told she owes over £2,000
The mum said she thought the initial letter had been sent in error, but was told by the council in January of this year that she owed £2,238 in care charges. She said her inability to work and limited savings should exclude her from contributing to her care, but that the council wrongly identified her disability allowance as [like] a salary.
She said: “They look at the money that you get from the government and they take it back for themselves. It’s absolutely disgusting. For a disabled person, and fortunately I’m not in the same position as other people, but for some people their only income is disability benefits, and that’s all they have for everything.” She added: “It’s awful. At one point, between my council tax and what I was paying to the council, they were receiving over £300 a month from me. It’s disgusting”. Emma said she felt ‘dumbfounded and cornered’ when she received the letter, requiring her to pay over £40 a week to the council [ongoing care charges] to pay off the debt, which made it hard for her to save money for emergencies. She said the council had also flagged her situation to its debt recovery team, which she felt was ‘beyond cruel’.
The mum said: “Because I own my own home, my biggest fear was that they would then say, ‘We have a call on your home until the debt is cleared’. They said to me that I had been flagged up for their debt recovery team, and that really worried me. It was horrible.” She added: “When all of this started, it would be every night before I go to sleep that I would be looking at all my finances and worst case scenarios, and then I’d wake up first thing in the morning and it’s immediately on your mind.” Emma said she had to send bank statements and receipts to the council to justify the need for her disability allowance and reduced charges. She said that while she still worries about the next letter that will come through the door, her charges have been reduced to less than £5 a week for the time being through the help of WinVisible, a charity aimed at supporting women with disabilities. The mum said: “I would say they’ve gone above and beyond. They have been so morally supportive and in a very realistic way.”
Claire Glasman, a founding member of WinVisible, told the LDRS that local authorities considering disability allowances for care charges had escalated the care crisis for many people. She said many women have become financially dependent on partners and dropped out of care services altogether as a result. Ms Glasman said: “Emma has been very determined and has fought her case through several stages… it just shows how many people must be losing out with their general living expenses and disability expenses not being counted. We want councils to demand more money from central government rather than squeezing disabled individuals and taking disability benefits.”
A Bromley Council spokesperson told the LDRS that the authority allocates resources and financial support in a fair way depending on people’s circumstances. They said detailed assessments are carried out to determine the level of care needed by a resident, with a financial assessment being done to decide the ability of the person to contribute to the care given. They said: “Financial assessments are carried out by the council in line with the Care Act 2014, the Care and Support Statutory Guidance and the council’s Contributions Policy to see what contributions, if any, the individual should make.“Within the assessment process, an amount, determined by the Government is set aside to cover a person’s daily living costs, known as the minimum income guarantee (MIG). The council’s Contributions Policy provides for a standard allowance for disability related expenditure (DRE) which is reviewed annually.” [Note: this is only £13.16]
They added: “If the financial assessment reveals that some, or all, of the cost of care in the home should be met by the council, then a regular direct payment will be made, with the person topping up as necessary to cover care costs. Where a person believes the standard DRE is insufficient or they believe payment of their assessed charge would result in financial hardship, they have the right to submit an appeal. Details of the appeal process can be found in the council’s policy, and guidance on how to appeal is provided with the outcome of the financial assessment.”
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Blog comment: Liberata refused to waive the charges entirely, which councils have the power to do, even though the remaining charge is relatively small and Emma’s disability expenses are high. Gathering the evidence to prove this was a huge effort for her. Making her do this, as otherwise she would be forced to pay unaffordable charges, we felt was contrary to equality law “reasonable adjustments”.
At first round, Bromley only reduced the charges slightly, from £48.27 to £44.39, and Emma had to battle on, with our help and support. Bromley assessed Emma’s weekly charge as the maximum she can afford, but also was pressing her to pay off arrears, how is that possible at the same time?