COUNCIL chiefs were forced to apologise and pay compensation when relatives were clobbered with care home fees.

Brighton and Hove City Council and West Sussex County Council had four complaints each upheld against them over delays.

The delays left families being invoiced for thousands of pounds as charging policies were either not explained or delayed for months.

In a most recent case upheld by the Local Government Ombudsman against the city council, it took more than a year for the financial services team to contact the family.

They faced a large backdated invoice. But the ombudsman said the authority had caused “stress and inconvenience”.

In another case against the city council it was revealed that details such as having to take into account the value of a relative’s home in care home charges was not explained until a year later.

Between 2015 and 2019 there were four complaints upheld against Brighton and Hove City Council and four upheld against West Sussex County Council, a study by The Argus revealed.

The city council said it has learned lessons and put in place new procedures recommended by the ombudsman, and has apologised to the families involved.

Our investigation also found 80 per cent of the 152 councils with responsibility for adult social care were criticised on at least one occasion by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman over their poor handling of charging for care services.

More than half of all complaints submitted nationally between 2015 and 2019 were upheld.

Councils, many of which were repeat offenders, were forced to apologise and pay compensation for the distress caused to the vulnerable, elderly residents and their relatives.

Professor Martin Green OBE, chief executive of Care England, said the Ombudsman decisions over care funding were “a reflection of the fact that there is no clarity about what the citizen has to pay, and what is paid for by government”.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, added: “The care system is hideously complex and councils haven’t got enough cash to go round. So this is a sure fire recipe for some unfortunate older people and their families to end up paying more for care than they legally should.

“At Age UK we have come across numerous examples of the law as regards care being breached by councils, sometimes deliberately, at other times by mistake.

“It’s yet another reason why the Government must keep its promise to fix social care, and that must mean a process of refinancing care alongside a process of thorough reform.”

Brighton and Hove City Council said: “We have actioned all of the recommendations made by the ombudsman in each of these four cases, which spanned a period of more than four years.

“We have apologised to the four families concerned for any distress caused, and have made the payments set out in each case by the ombudsman.

“Adult social care charging can be a sensitive and, at times, complicated process.

“We deal with hundreds of people each year and provide an accurate and timely charging assessment for the vast majority of people.”