Chief executive of Denbighshire Council urged to launch inquiry into care home fee allegations

The chief executive of Denbighshire County Council has been urged to launch an official inquiry into allegations the authority has acted unlawfully over care home fees.

The call for an investigation has come from Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of industry champions Care Forum Wales.

Care Forum Wales (CFW) is unhappy after important decisions about funding social care in Denbighshire were taken in secret.

Mr Kreft has now written to the council’s most senior officer, Graham Boase, to lodge the complaint about how the authority has dealt with the matter.

According to CFW, the fees paid by Denbighshire are among the lowest in Wales and, instead of reflecting the true cost of providing care for people with dementia, are ‘unlawfully and irresponsibly’ low.

The final straw for CFW came after the council’s Communities Scrutiny Committee threw out a proposal for the cabinet to reconsider the rates, which CFW considered unsustainable and much lower than those paid by other authorities like Gwynedd and Anglesey.

Mr Kreft said it was clear that Denbighshire County Council had deviated from the official guidance and had cloaked the process in secrecy by excluding the press and public.

Denbighshire County Council, though, said the meeting included reports containing confidential and sensitive information, which would undermine a consultation process to set fees for 23/24.

Mr Kreft said: “The ultimate irony is that the scrutiny committee held their meeting in secret behind closed doors and held a two-hour debate, with the public and press excluded, ensuring there was no public scrutiny. It’s a scandal.

“This matter is very straightforward and very clear. Providing social care is a statutory responsibility, and the law requires local authorities to pay fees that reflect the true cost of providing care. Not to do so is unlawful; therefore, Denbighshire are acting unlawfully. It is that simple.

“It’s not just Care Forum Wales saying this. That’s also the legal advice that was given to members of Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council where councillors voted for rate increases of between 16 and 22%.

“They agreed the increases after studying a report by officials on the legal position, which meant they were obliged by law to pay sustainable fees to providers,” said Mr Kreft.

“The Merthyr councillors were told they were duty bound to comply with the requirements of Welsh Government in setting fees for care homes.”

Mr Kreft added: “The fees set need to be adequate to enable providers to meet the specifications set by the commissioners, together with regulatory requirements.

“If a council deviates from guidance without a considered and cogently reasoned decision, it acts unlawfully and in a manner which is amenable to challenge and judicial review.”

The issue was raised in the Senedd by Vale of Clwyd MS Gareth Davies who read out quotes from Mr Kreft which were included in a story by the Local Democracy Reporting Service about excluding the press and public from the meeting.

In response, Lesley Griffiths MS, the Minister for North Wales, said it was a matter for Denbighshire Council but added: “What I would agree with is that as much transparency as possible, I think, is the way forward for every local authority in Wales when they make decisions.”

Funding in Denbighshire is around £120 a week less per person for nursing care for people with dementia than the rate in Gwynedd for the same level of care.

Denbighshire pays £6,272 a year less per person for nursing care for people with dementia than the rate in Gwynedd for the same level and quality of care – even if they’re just 10 miles apart in places like Corwen in Denbighshire and just across the county border in Bala in Gwynedd.

Mr Kreft added: “It appears to me that Denbighshire are deliberately imposing a stealth tax on decent, hard-working people. Care homes are not legally allowed to operate at a financial loss so the residents’ loved ones will have to pick up the tab to make up the shortfall.

“The leader of the Labour-led council, Cllr Jason McLellan, and his Cabinet colleagues are taking the people of Denbighshire for fools, and I’m shocked that Plaid Cymru councillors are doing the opposite to their counterparts in Gwynedd and Anglesey who have acted much more honourably.”

A spokesperson for Denbighshire County Council said: “Graham Boase, the Chief Executive of Denbighshire received a letter from Mr Mario Kreft of Care Forum Wales and welcomes the opportunity to meet Mr Kreft to discuss the issues raised.”

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