Last year Barnet Council introduced something called the ‘Fairer Contributions Policy’. This changed the way people are charged for social care and included the Council asking for a contribution towards the cost of services which were previously provided free of charge.
I attended a consultation event (they called it a ‘conversation’) at North London Business Park and at the time thought that this would not work well. In particular the introduction of charges for attending a day centre seemed both unfair and short sighted. At the end of last week I received an email from a user of social care who is experiencing difficulties with the service and in particular the way in which these services are now charged. Their email is set out below:
“Dear Mr. Reasonable,
I have read your blog about auditing and would like to share some of my concerns with you about invoicing under the Fairer Contributions Policy which came into effect in June 2011. Since then people who receive care in their home or attend a day centre have been financially assessed and charged part or all of the cost of their care. I am a little vague about figures now but I think LBB was hoping for a gross income of £850,000 in 2011/12.
I f you have savings of over £23,500 there is no point in filling in a financial assessment form as you have to pay the full amount. This is £37 per day to attend a day centre and I think around £14 per hour for care in the home. My husband falls in this category and since June 2011 we have had many more incorrect invoices than correct ones. People who receive care are likely to be considerably disabled or pretty ill – this means they may be unable to attend a day centre or have to cancel a carer’s visit to their home because they are in hospital or, on a happier note, they may take a holiday. Barnet’s invoicing system has difficulty coping with this.
Most of the services are not actually provided by Barnet but are provided by voluntary organisations or private companies who send in registers of attendance at day centres or number of hours care provided – these are known as the returns which someone in Barnet Adult Care or Financial Services, Income reconciles at their leisure- perhaps 4 months after they receive the returns. However Financial Services, Income send out invoices to service users before the returns have been reconciled. To use my husband as an example, he attended a day centre on 2 days a week so was invoiced for 8 visits in a four week period - £296. Some months he did not go so often, for example during the 4 weeks from end Sept. 2011 he only made 2 visits in 4 weeks because of Jewish festivals when the day centre was closed. However we were invoiced for £296 even though we actually owed £74 – quite a large difference. Barnet assure us they have this issue covered – when they have reconciled the returns, at a time of their choice, we will be credited for days when my husband did not attend the day centre. When you receive an invoice it does not itemise what care you received on what day – it is a very shoddy document. I am not in the habit of paying for services not received, so I have adjusted the invoice if it was incorrect and sent a cheque for the amount actually due. I think other people are doing the same, which has caused some confusion in Financial Services Income, who never answer their telephone or reply to a letter
Barnet urged us to pay by direct debit, which I chose not to do. However I believe some people have done so – if they have been incorrectly invoiced and wrong amounts debited from their accounts, will they ever get their money back?
Although it does not feel great to be invoiced for services that were previously provided free of charge, we are in a better position than people with less savings who have to complete a financial assessment form. This form is very hard to complete in a way that fairly reflects your financial situation and so many people have been incorrectly assessed. If you are bold enough to ask for a reassessment you have to wait a very long time for this to happen – in the mean time the invoices, reminders and final notices keep on coming. Some people have reduced their care because they are unable to pay the contribution Barnet asks. When they inform Barnet that they have reduced the number of hours a carer comes, Barnet ignores this and continues to charge for the hours first agreed. I heard of one person who was so worried about losing the care they needed that they took a loan (not from a bank) with massive interest charges.
It would be interesting to know how much income Barnet received as a result of the Fairer Contributions policy during 2011/12.
Best wishes, Janet Leifer, member of the Campaign Against the Destruction of Disabled Support Services”
In February this year Barnet published a newsletter called Local Account which purports to be “a key way through which residents can hold the council to account on how well we are supporting people with social care needs”.
Well I have a message to Cllr Rajput, who is the Cabinet member responsible implementing this policy. I am going to start holding you to account and I will be following up this blog with a letter asking for a detailed review of the charging policy, how many people have stop using services since the introduction, how many people are being sent inaccurate invoices and how many users have been forced into debt. Success of a policy should not just measured by how much you save but by how much you improve people's lives. I suspect this policy is doing neither.