CALDERDALE Council has been ripped off by some providers of home care and meals on wheels.
Now leaders are demanding £118,000 back from one firm amid warnings that it could be “just the tip of the iceberg”.
A scathing report by auditors showed the council’s monitoring systems were not up to scratch, which resulted in the district’s biggest home care provider being overpaid 17.5 per cent last year.
Calderdale Council also paid for meals that some people never received.
Audit committee chairman Peter Wardhaugh said the whole home-help process was open to abuse and was only as good as the systems in place for monitoring providers.
He said: “Electronic monitoring and spot checks on the agencies could eliminate some of the more questionable practices.
“But I know from personal experience that some of the staff take advantage of the system.
“It is very sad that agencies have also – and that’s probably only the tip of the iceberg,” said Coun Wardhaugh (Lib-Dem Greetland and Stainland).
The audit committee was told that meal charges had been raised by the provider in 2009 without the approval of the council and Coun Stephen Baines was angry that it had taken so long to get to the bottom of the problems.
He asked whether the sample findings were indicative of much wider issues.
“The auditors opinion is that the monitoring of both services has been weak but I think it should be called inadequate,” said Coun Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf).
Councillor Bryan Smith (Lab, Ovenden) said the council should consider “sacking” the home care provider responsible for overcharging but was told that because it was the largest, it would cause huge disruption.
Director of health and social care Jonathan Phillips said there had to be “mutual trust” between the council and services providers.
“The more we spend on monitoring, the less we have for front line services.
“There is no evidence of major issues with more than one provider and going back to check records from previous years would not be cost effective.”
Mr Phillips said measures were now in place to ensure there would be no repeat of the problems which the auditors had uncovered.
About £5 million a year is paid to six companies and organisations to provide home care for about 1,200 elderly and vulnerable people.
A detailed investigation showed that the actual time some staff 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 key firm £783,000 but it should have been £137,000 less, the audit committee was told.
It was eventually decided to reclaim £118,000 - money which is still outstanding.
When home care workers visit people, the time they stay with clients is rounded up to the next quarter of an hour so that a 16 minute visit can 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 that almost everything to do with the meals on wheels service was “weak” from contract supervision to delivery information and the collection of charges.
That problem was highlighted in April 2010 but has only just begun to be tackled.
Contractors providing meals, freezers, microwaves and steamers might have been overpaid by as much as 50 per cent, according to the council’s auditors.
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.
“Discrepancies were identified which indicated that the council had been paying for renting equipment that was not in use by meals service clients and income was not being banked in a timely manner.”
Apart from possibly not providing a service to vulnerable people, the council’s reputation could be damaged, according the auditors.