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Saturday, 21 November 2009

Payment time?

Wirral News by Liam Murphy

THIS week we will (maybe) find out how much Wirral Council will repay a group of vulnerable adults who were overcharged while in local authority care.

The "final statement" by Martin Morton, the man who highlighted the overcharging of vulnerable people by social services and lost his job, has been published on the council's web page.

At 28 pages long, it's quite a read although it has been "redacted" (funny how that word keeps coming back) by the council's director of law.

A preface to the statement says: "This statement has been redacted by the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management to remove all names of present and former officers except for current Chief Officers and the Chief Internal Auditor. This has been done in view of the current investigation into other allegations by Mr Morton. In addition a small number of other potentially defamatory comments have also been redacted."

The council has been forced by the sheer persistence of Mr Morton to take his concerns about the so-called "special charging policy" seriously.

About 15 people were overcharged while staying at just a handful of supported living accommodation places. Mr Morton believes this over-charging totals some £500,000. Wirral Council has come round to accept some over-charging, but disputes the amount, and the Audit Committee has the task of recommending to the ruling cabinet how much should be repaid.

However, the case potentially has wider ramifications. Martin Morton's allegations can be summed up by the following quote from his statement to the committee: "if you take money from an individual (vulnerable or otherwise) to which you have no right it's called theft. The result of this theft left a young man with learning disabilities so destitute that he has to apply to a welfare fund to buy clothes. This wasn't an accounting error. This was systematic and callous abuse and is evidenced by the statement recorded in an email by a Senior Officer of Wirral Council who no doubt was questioned during your investigation: "Once we go for reimbursement our covers blown"."

In fact, the email from which the concern about the cover being blown is still more revealing (taken from Mr Morton's report):

[Officer C (DASS)] to [Officer D (DASS)]
24 February 2004
Subject: RE: Supported Accommodation - Charging Policy
Once we go for a 'reimbursement' the cover's blown. However we can't bury our head in the sand for too much longer as the charging review group will start soon (it could be better to leave it to that group to consider?) In the meantime there is'unfairness' in the system hence my advice to X to consider the broader issues in AMT.
By the book:- there is no separate charging policy for this service, so it could be argued the domiciliary care charging policy must apply (and should have since '97), and that will mean a hefty reimbursement.
I would suggest we go to the Cabinet in the political down time (May-June) to get agreement for a 'special charging policy' for supported living as part of the budget strategy.... and that this policy maintains the status quo in financial terms but does so more fairly. I would also suggest the impact on individuals and groups in certain living situations are considered in more depth as I was left thinking the charging practice was very diverse and almost locally determined by individual staff (although I could be wrong there).

Mr Morton concludes his report to the Audit Committee with this recommendation:

"It is matter of simply adding up what charges were made upon the tenants of 3 addresses between 1997 -2006 and paying it back...................."

I implore you not to be constrained by political affiliations and to make your decision in accordance with what is right and acknowledge the citizenship and legal rights of people with learning disabilities who lived at Bermuda Road, Curlew Way and Edgehill Road and who were subject to an unlawful charge

Maybe we'll find out at
Audit and Risk Management Committee
Date: Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Time: 6.15 pm
Venue: Committee Room 1 - Wallasey Town Hall


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

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