Saturday 12 November 2011

Guest Blog by Janet Leifer - Destruction of Disabled Support Services in London Borough of Barnet

By Janet Leifer,

Background Information:
Once upon a time Barnet Council provided its disabled residents with support services, such as carers to help with routine tasks in the home and to support those at risk on their own; day centres where you could socialise with others and take part in a variety of activities.  These support services were offered to disabled residents of Barnet of all ages with learning difficulties, mental health problems, physical disabilities and severe and long term ill health.  They were offered to people whose needs were assessed as “critical and substantial” free of charge.
Over recent years Barnet Council has stopped or changed many of these services, often outsourcing them to other agencies to run on its behalf.  Barnet Council has now decided that those disabled residents, who receive support services, should be financially assessed and asked to make a contribution towards the cost of the support services they receive.  Meeting their “critical and substantial need” has become less important to Barnet Council then bringing in income to the Council and cutting costs. In April 2011 Barnet Fairer Contributions Policy was approved by councillors.
Barnet Fairer Contributions Policy: a timeline:
October 2010.  Barnet Cabinet agree to conduct a consultation process so that the Fairer Contributions Policy could be introduced.
November 2010 – January 2011.  Barnet Council consults on 4 issues at the same time, asking residents to respond to consultations on funding for the voluntary sector, a new charging policy for care services, the budget for adult social services and the future of sheltered housing wardens.  Barnet Adult Social Care and Health stated that 3,500 residents were consulted and 450 completed and returned the questionnaire they received.   The consultation process was confusing and unclear to many of the 3,500 about to be affected by the Fairer Contributions Policy.
14 February 2011.  Barnet Council Cabinet agrees to introduce the Fairer Contributions Policy.
April 2011.  Barnet Council approves Fairer Contributions Policy.
April 2011.  Financial Assessment Forms sent out to those affected by policy, presumably the 3,500 who were sent the consultation questionnaires.   Some people unsure how to complete forms.  Organisations, who support service users and their carers,  unsure how to fill out forms correctly. 
July 2011 onwards. Some of 3,500 receive letters stating how much they must pay and then start to receive invoices, some receive invoices first followed by letter, some hear nothing for some time.  Some people are unsure if the financial assessment is correct, some receive incorrect invoices, some cannot pay whether the assessment is correct or not because they do not have the money.
Some time later this year.  Barnet Council may offer training to organisations on completing the financial assessment forms which were supposed to have been returned in May 2011.
3,500 may not seem a large amount of people in a borough with a population of well over 300,000.  Many Barnet residents may be fortunate and never become disabled permanently or temporarily, but you never know what lies in the future and lives can be changed overnight by an accident, an illness or simply getting old.  If we do not express our concern about what is happening to support services for disabled people in Barnet then there will be no support left if you or a loved one should need support in the future.
A group of people have got together to campaign on behalf of all those who are in danger of losing their support services.  It is called the Campaign Against The Destruction of Disabled Support Services – CADDSS. 
It is really important to know how many disabled people have seen their support services cut or reduced as a result of policies introduced by Barnet Council.  If you would like to support our campaign or tell us the difficulties you are facing please contact CADDSS by email .
How Barnet Fairer Contributions Policy Affected one of the 3,500: Jeffrey and Janet’s story
My husband, Jeffrey is 74 years old.  He attends a day centre for people with dementia and other mental health problems.  His left leg is amputated above the knee and he walks with difficulty.  My name is Janet and I am Jeffrey’s wife and sole carer.
For over two years Jeffrey has attended a day centre twice a week run by Jewish Care, a voluntary organisation.  Barnet Council funded these visits as they considered his social care needs to be “critical and substantial”. 
In November 2010 Jeffrey received documents from the London Borough of Barnet entitled “Proposed Reduction in Funding for Voluntary Sector Services: a consultation document”.  This was accompanied by a questionnaire to complete.  In January we decided that we would complete the questionnaire even though we thought the Council had already decided on a course of action and the consultation would not change anything.  Funding to organisations like Jewish Care was bound to be cut.  It also seemed as though Jeffrey would be asked to make some contribution to the cost of his visits to the day centre – but there were no precise details on this particular questionnaire.  It was not a meaningful consultation.
Nothing more was heard until the end of April 2011 when the Financial Assessment Form and accompanying information popped through the letter box.  Anyone with savings of more than £23,250 was expected to pay the full cost. No point in completing the assessment form since Jeffrey would have to pay the full cost.  There was no indication as to what this charge would be.
Many of the members of the day centre Jeffrey attends and their carers were uncertain about what to do and asked for advice from the day centre, who seemed equally unsure about what to do.  A meeting was arranged for the beginning of May and a senior Council officer was present.  He told the meeting that the full cost per day would be £36.82.  In June and July people would pay £25 per week to ease them in gently and from August they would be charged the full amount. At a meeting in June we were told by the same senior council officer and in a letter in July that the cost would be £36.82 a day.  In August the same senior Council officer told us that he had been mistaken and the cost was actually £37.
We were very concerned about the costs we were now facing and we certainly did not feel that the consultation document and questionnaire we had received on funding of the voluntary sector in any way prepared us for the shock of receiving the financial assessment documents and for what we would now have to pay.
 At the end of August Jeffrey had a telephone call from Barnet Adult and Social Care asking why he had not returned his financial assessment form.  However he also had received a letter from the same department in July acknowledging that they had received the form on 23 May. I dealt with the telephone call in August.  Apparently the computer record had not been adjusted – based on information given by me over the phone and without checking records in the department,t the officer who called changed the record.
A few days later an invoice arrived for June and July. We were urged to pay by Direct Debit.  The invoice was not correct because Jeffrey had been charged for a week in June when the centre was closed – he had been overcharged by £25.  I sent a letter to Financial Services, Income who had sent the invoice, asking for a correct invoice on 2 September.  I have not received a reply but have received a reminder and a final notice.
Jeffrey has also received an invoice for August. He only attended the day centre four times.  He was charged for eight visits instead of four.  The charge per day had also altered from £36.82 to £37. 
I am responsible for the family finances and decided to pay for the days Jeffrey actually attended in June and July and similarly for August and the months to follow.  I amended the invoice for June and July and returned it with a cheque and covering letter.  I did the same with the August invoice.  I have never had a response from Financial Services, Income.
I have been informed by the senior Council officer that there was no intention to charge for days when a service user did not attend the day centre, however the service user would be charged the full amount initially and when Barnet Adult Social Care and Health had reconciled the returns from the day centre the service user would be credited for the days he did not attend.  Unfortunately the Council was a little behind with the reconciliation because of all the work involved in the implementation of the Fairer Contributions Policy so it would be a little while before anyone would be credited for any incorrect charges.  In other words if we pay the invoices in full we will be giving the Council money that they are not entitled to until they get round to crediting my husband’s account .
My husband and I find ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place, one of the “squeezed middle”, but since joining the Campaign Against the Destruction of Disabled Support Services we have heard stories of much worse situations such as
·         Someone receiving an invoice for care of over £1,000 to be paid immediately
or legal action will be taken or the bailiffs will pay a visit.
·         Someone with heart disease cancelling their carer because they could not afford the cost.
·         Someone with a weekly income of £200 and no savings asked to pay £47 per week towards their care.
So a final plea – if you or anyone you know is disabled and has had their support services cut please contact CADDSS by email
Janet Leifer is a concerned Barnet resident. The Barnet Eye is always happy to publish guest blogs. Please use the link in the sidebar to email them for submission 


Jaybird said...

Thanks for posting this Janet.

The Council has a legal obligation to provide services for people with substantial & critical needs. People with lower levels of need - mild or moderate needs, which are by definition needs, may find there is no support for them at all.

I think people need to ask whether a fairer contributions policy is to ask disabled people to pay the full cost of services, or whether it might be fairer to increase council tax.

baarnett said...

This report today in the INDEPENDENT may be relevant...

Janet - CADDSS said...

Thanks for these comments.

My husband, Jeffrey, says all the time that the fairest way would be to increae the council tax and I think I support him on this, although this would probably not have universal support and unfortunately I think national government has insisted council tax be frozen for this year.

I believe Barnet has a duty to support residentsw with critical and substantial need and I do not think they could prevent my husband attending the day centre. At the same time Barnet is entitled to assess people's ability to pay for services they receive and use any legal means to ensure they receive the payment.

It always good to hear about cases where service users rights have been upheld. As far as I caqn work out at the moment legal precedent is unclear because some cases go in favour of service users and some in favour of the councils.

I am very concerned at the moment that some people who have been charged under the terms of the Fairer Contributions Policy have been overcharged. I understand that over 40 people were invoiced the full amount for the month of June and/or July 2011 when they should only have been charged a maximum of £100 for June and for July.

Many people seem to have opted to pay by direct debit because it is less of a worry for them and they are anxious to pay whatever their local authority asks them to pay. How many of these invoices are incorrect and how many of the mistakes have been rectified?

Barnet Fairer Contributions policy has been implemented in haste and as a consequence many mistakes are being made.