Sunderland Council’s £73,000 payout to settle long-running care dispute

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Sunderland City Council has paid out nearly £73,000 to settle a long-running dispute over care payments, a committee has heard.

The authority’s latest ‘complaints and compliments’ report includes data on council write-offs and refunds during 2017/18.

On June 28, the Scrutiny and Co-ordinating Committee heard the sum was linked to a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) decision in January this year.

The financial remedy was linked to a complaint referred to the Ombudsman in 2013 over suspended direct payments between 2012-2014.

The case involved an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s Disease, ‘Mrs C’, and her son who supported her care ‘Mr B’, a report states.

It adds the complainant ‘Mr B’ claimed the halted payments led to lost earnings as he was unable to return to work due to care responsibilities.

Although Sunderland Council agreed to pay a “financial remedy” in 2014 on the Ombudsman’s recommendations that there was an “injustice”, a resolution was delayed for several years.

Coun Darryl Dixon, speaking at Sunderland Civic Centre, raised concerns about the “significant” sum, noting it was the highest the authority had paid out since 2012/13.

But complaints manager Marie Johnston told councillors the case was “long and complex”.

She added the council’s final payout was a mixture of “straight reimbursement and compensation”, and asked for copies of the report to be circulated to councillors for more information.

A LGSCO report states delays in the case were linked to separate legal proceedings to appoint an independent social worker for ‘Mrs C’ and assess her son’s “needs as a carer”.

When a new personal care budget was agreed for ‘Mrs C’ in 2016, SCC said basing a remedy on new figures would lead to a payout of £264,000.

Mr B claimed the council failed to provide an adequate care plan and support between 2012-2016, criticised delays and provided evidence he expected to earn £100,000 a year when working.

But the council stated the £264k would be excess of Mr B’s likely earnings and would “penalise other service users as the money would have to come from the council’s overall social care budget,” an Ombudsman’s report explained.

The ombudsman made a final recommendation this year stating it would be “disproportionate to expect SCC to pay a remedy to ‘Mr B’ based on the higher budget it has now agreed.”

It also disputed council claims that Mr B had been “uncooperative” with delays caused by a “strained relationship” between the two parties.

The council was asked to refund around £27,987.40 for the time when no direct payments were made, based on their rate in 2014.

The sum of £40,000 was also paid to ‘Mr B’ for “loss of opportunity” and an additional £5,000 for “distress”.  

“This is a higher sum than we would typically award but the facts of this case are exceptional and justify it,” the LGSCO report concluded.

A Sunderland Council spokesman added: “This compensation follows a long-standing and complex case that was referred to the Local Government Ombudsman.

“As with all cases, the Ombudsman can recommend a financial remedy.

“Following a protracted period of providing evidence to the Ombudsman, the council agreed the recommended sum and feels it is more proportionate to the circumstances.”

Sunderland Council also made three additional compensation payments in 2017/18 linked to health and social care bringing the total payout figure to £77,282.75.

These cases included.

* A £2,304.29 arrears write-off with a fault on the part of the council in providing information about client contribution (April 2017)

* £30 refund for taxi and carer costs after an appointment was cancelled without notifying a customer. (August 2017)

* £1,961.06 invoice write-off due to “fault on the part of the council in providing conflicting information and issues of delay”. (September 2017).

Chris Binding, Local Democracy Reporting Service