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latest update 12 February 2010

Friday, 27 November 2009

Wirral Council overcharged vulnerable adults in care

Liverpool Daily Post by Liam Murphy,

COUNCILLORS in Wirral have agreed to repay 16 people who were overcharged by social services for their care.

The authority was forced to re-examine the cases of people with learning difficulties who were in supported living accommodation at three sites in Wirral between 1997 and 2006.

A previous meeting of the authority’s audit committee in September heard evidence from former social services worker Martin Morton.

He described how he had exposed the unfair “special charging policy” in which a small group of vulnerable adults in council care had been subject to extra charging – often leaving them “in penury”, according to committee member Simon Mountney, who has taken up the issue.

Mr Morton also told the committee he had subsequently been bullied and deliberately isolated until he left the authority’s employment. Shortly after that meeting, which had agreed to repayments totalling £116,300 dating back to 2003, the council announced it was launching an investigation into the allegations made by Mr Morton.

On Wednesday night, the council committee was presented with a “final statement” by Mr Morton, outlining his knowledge of the “special charging policy” which the authority applied at just three supported living accommodation sites. Mr Morton had been pressing for the reimbursements to date back to 1997 when the charges were introduced, but the Labour and Lib-Dem members of the committee outvoted the Conservatives to reimburse back to December, 2000, on the advice of borough solicitor Bill Norman.

Mr Norman told the committee that in his view the decision taken in 1997 was reasonable “in the light of information that was or wasn’t available from the Government”.

The audit committee was told that a report on social services charging, in July, 2000, had promised a further report on Supported Living charges, but this report never materialised.

It was therefore resolved by the committee that the reimbursements should date back to this point.

Cllr Mountney, pressing for the repayments to go back to 1997, told the audit committee: “The decision in 1997 only applied to 16 people – it might have been legally correct but it’s wrong.”

He said any decision to refuse to repay the full amount would leave the authority “morally bankrupt in the eyes of the public”.

A report to the committee said: “Reimbursement for the 16 service users who were affected for the period December 4, 2000, to March 31, 2003, would total £127,700.”

After the meeting at Wallasey Town Hall, Sue Lowe, of the Independent Disabled People’s Forum, said: “It’s important that these kids get their money back, but we must make sure this never happens again.”.

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

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