Council sent vulnerable person bills which ‘drove them to verge of suicide’
- Credit: LIB DEMS
A vulnerable person received bills from the county council which “drove them to the verge of suicide,” a councillor has said.
Liberal Democrat county councillor Lucy Nethsingha made the comment during the county council’s budget-setting meeting on Tuesday (February 9), while criticising what she described as cuts that have been “far more extreme than they had to be”.
The county council said in a statement that some individuals are asked to contribute towards the care and support service they receive, and that “each person is treated as an individual and their particular circumstances are taken into account”.
The council said the team responsible has “very recently” been brought in-house and that, following a public consultation on its contributions policy, it is currently implementing changes.
Addressing comments made by a number of opposition councillors in Tuesday’s meeting that the Conservative group is not putting enough money into adult social care, Tory councillor and chair of the adults committee, Anna Bailey, said that more than £20 million in additional funding is being put into the budget for that purpose in the upcoming financial year.
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Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Nethsingha explained that she has been approached by the family of an extremely vulnerable elderly person who had been receiving invoices from the council, causing the person confusion, alarm and distress.
Communications from the family to Cllr Nethsingha, anonymised and seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, describe how they were concerned for the person’s welfare, and attempted to resolve the payment issues.
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The family said in an email to Cllr Nethsingha: “During the last year we get a panicked phone call the moment he receives an invoice. We spend so much time on trying to reassure him.
"We try to explain the invoice to him and despite both of us having tertiary education we cannot explain it because we do not fully understand your invoicing system”.
They said they and the vulnerable person concerned had contacted the council’s finance department to “resolve inconsistencies” in the invoices received, and that they had been told the matter would be resolved.
Despite this, further invoices have then been sent to the individual, which appear to have caused further distress.
The family said: “Pressure is being placed on councils to reduce costs but when these result in unbearable stress on the client and the family there has to be a moment of consciousness and compassion for our fellow human beings”.
Cllr Nethsingha said in this case the individual had been moved from accommodation – at the encouragement of their housing provider, which is not linked to the council – where they had lived for more than 20 years, and that the person found themselves with less support and without friends.
When invoices began to arrive from the county council, which Cllr Nethsingha said she believes are related to covering the cost of social care provided, the individual could not cope.
She said she raised the issue at the budget-setting meeting because she believes it speaks to a wider issue of “enormous financial pressure on officers at the council which then feeds down into pressures on individuals who cannot cope with those pressures”.
Later in the meeting, Conservative Anna Bailey said the council is “significantly increasing adult social care budgets”.
She said in the current financial year the council’s adult social care budget is £141 million, and that in the year ahead, 2021/22, that will increase to over £161 million.
A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesperson said: “As part of our Adult Social Care Contributions Policy, some individuals are asked to contribute towards the care and support they receive from the local authority.
Each person is treated as an individual and their particular circumstances are taken into account as well as the expense they incur as a result of their needs and this is a personalised process.
“If we are contacted by any individuals who have concerns about how their contribution has been worked out or payment arrangements, we will always investigate whether any changes are needed and communicate with them directly.
“We have very recently moved the team in house managed within adult social care working alongside social workers.
During the consultation process on the Contributions Policy we received feedback about the process and how it needs to improve and we are currently implementing those changes.
This includes planning to complete more face-to-face visits once Covid-19 restrictions are reduced.”
Cllr Nethsingha’s comments in the council meeting on Tuesday suggested that the council was involved in the vulnerable person being moved from their original home, and that the billing issue is linked to the council’s adult positive challenge policy, but she has since said that is not the case.
But Cllr Nethsingha said she stands by the comment that the person was “sent bills from this council which drove them to the verge of suicide”.