Council reclaims some of the £117,000 it overpaid for care

A carer enjoys a cup of tea and a chat with her client. Picture: Dean Mitchell.
A carer enjoys a cup of tea and a chat with her client. Picture: Dean Mitchell.
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The council has managed to claw back £60,000 from a home care contractor which the authority originally estimated it had overpaid to the tune of £117,000.

The Courier reported last summer how the company received about 17.5 per cent too much in 2011/12 because the council’s monitoring systems were not up to scratch.

A year later, an agreement has been reached which is currently being processed, said Coun Bob Metcalfe, Calderdale Council’s adults, health and social care spokesman.

“While this is less than the original estimate verbally reported to the Audit Committee, it nevertheless reflects an appropriate settlement with the provider,” he said.

The council pays more than £5 million a year to six companies and organisations to provide home care for about 1,200 elderly and vulnerable people.

A detailed investigation last summer showed that the actual time some carers spent with people was “often significantly less than contracted and paid for due to missed visits or visits shorter than contracted for.”

The council paid the biggest firm £783,000 but it should have been £137,000 less, the audit committee was told.

It was eventually decided to try to reclaim £117,000.

Councillor Metcalfe (Lab, Illingworth and Mixenden) said there had since been major changes to way home care services are paid for and monitored.

“There has been considerable work done to introduce a new electronic call monitoring system, designed to automatically link payments to the frequency and duration of home care calls.

“All home care providers are now required to use this system.”

He said the agreement over the £117,000 bill followed “further sampling” which strengthed the council’s arm in negotiations with the provider, which has not been named.

A former home care service manager told the Courier: “It was established practice, not simply to overcharge, for example for more hours than were actually provided, but also to manually change the visiting records on a weekly basis to justify this systematic fraud.”

When home care workers visited people, the time they stayed with clients used to be rounded up to the next quarter of an hour, so that a 16 minute visit could cost the council a 30 minute payment.

Auditors concluded that there could be safeguarding implications from failing to give people the full service which the council was paying for.

They also found last summer that many aspects of the meals on wheels service were “weak” from contract supervision to delivery information and the collection of charges.

Contractors providing meals, freezers, microwaves and steamers might have been overpaid by as much as 50 per cent, the contract had not been properly signed and sealed, it was extended prior to the approval of councillors, the number of meals delivered and paid for did not always match client information and there were poor controls for cancelling meals.