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latest update 12 February 2010

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Councillor blasts Wirral 'Whistleblower' inquiry as a sham

Wirral Globe - by Leigh Marles

The outcome of a major inquiry into the systematic overcharging of vulnerable people under the care of Wirral Council social services has been branded a “sham.”

Internal auditors carrying out a probe into a controversial “special charging policy” as it is known, made a last-minute discovery of a 12-year-old document which they said proved the policy had been officially sanctioned by a council committee in September of 1997.

They said this “changed everything.”

Even so, their long-awaited report still revealed that some clients had been overcharged by more than £100,000, and recommends the authority should now repay the cash.

The overcharging only came to light when a council “whistleblower” raised the alarm in the Wirral Globe.

But this week, Cllr Simon Mountney, who has been leading a campaign on behalf of the anonymous whistleblower, said the discovered document was “unlawful.”

Lambasting the internal audit as “just a sham” he is calling for external auditors to be brought in to launch a “full and proper” inquiry.

He said: “The discovery of that document, which nobody up until that point even realised existed, has actually changed nothing at all.

"It is an unlawful policy and just because some councillors ‘nodded it through’ 12 years ago does not mean it is valid.

“You cannot pass an unlawful minute saying it was okay for the council to take 100% of people’s income.

“We shall call for external auditors to re-examine this whole issue. What the council's internal audit uncovered was just a fraction, the tip of an awfully big iceberg.”

The audit reports says the “special charging policy” was applied at three care homes in Wirral – but nowhere else in the borough.

People were overcharged a total of £116,000, with the sums ranging from “a few hundred pounds to over £15,000”.

The report, which is to be presented to a special council scrutiny meeting on Wednesday, admits the charges to those in “supported living” accommodation were unlawful.

It says the policy was applied at Bermuda Road, Curlew Way and Edgehill Road, all in Moreton, between 1997 and 2006.

It says: “Until April, 2003, the charges levied were, on balance, probably reasonable and lawful.

“However, between April, 2003, when fairer charging should have been brought in, and February, 2006, when fairer charging was actually introduced at ‘in-house’ supporting living units in Wirral, the charges were probably unreasonable, so far as the charges exceeded what would have been levied under fairer charging.

To that extent, the charges levied were also unlawful.”

Wirral Council’s internal audit report also acknowledges no evidence could be found that the policy had been approved by councillors until the final week of completing the document.

But the minutes from the meeting in 1997, appeared to show the necessary approval was given.

A statement from Wirral Council said: “Prior to the council’s internal audit, an investigation was conducted by the Audit Commission.

“This focused on the council’s application of the Department of Health’s Fairer Charging Policy and arrangements for the commissioning and monitoring of contracts for supported living and supported people services.

“The Audit Commission published their findings in August, 2008. The Audit and Risk Management Committee considered the conclusions and then requested an internal investigation.

“The council would like to express its appreciation to the whistleblower for raising these matters and providing evidence.”

Members were also asked to consider appropriate reimbursements if it was felt users had been overcharged.


© copyright Wirral Globe. Reproduced under fair use for the dual purposes of comment and news reporting

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