A local authority is facing formal complaints over the way it suddenly reintroduced financial assessments of disabled people who receive care services.
Greenwich council in London and the Pension Service have both apologised for causing “uncertainty or distress” after letters warning of the changes were sent out on photocopied Pension Service headed paper, with no council contact details.
The letters were sent out by the Pension Service, which is working jointly on the assessments with the council.
But many disabled people who received the letters feared they were the victims of a scam.
And at least two of them were warned on the phone that they would have to pay full care charges if they did not cooperate.
Campaigners said the letters caused fear, anxiety and confusion among many disabled people in the borough.
They believe the purpose of the letters was to increase revenue in a climate where councils across the country are facing financial pressures.
The council also failed to notify key members of its own social services department that the letters were being sent out.
Fred Williams, one of the disabled people who received the letter, said the process had been “shabby and totally unprofessional” and had caused people “a great deal of stress, anxiety and fear”.
He accused the council of forcing the assessments upon people in “the most barbaric manner”.
The council’s director of adults’ and older people’s services has now ordered a review of the letter and its contents.
A council spokesman said: “We are concerned to hear about the way in which some of the calls were handled and that is being investigated.”
He said the joint team was reassessing people’s contributions to charges for care services, although the charges themselves had been “frozen” for the second year running and previous assessments had led to more than half of service-users not making any contribution.
All 1,400 users of home care services in Greenwich will face financial reassessments over the next two years.
Greenwich Association of Disabled People (GADP) said the problems caused by the letters and the reassessments were “upsetting”.
GADP said there should have been a consultation on the changes because it had been “a good number of years” since the council had carried out such assessments.
Joanne Munn, director of GADP, said: “We are also concerned to hear the way in which our members have been spoken to concerning these financial assessments.”
She called for improved staff disability equality training, and added: “If there is any expression of anxiety at all by the disabled person the call should be stopped – threatening that a person will have to pay full cost if they don’t agree to be assessed is not appropriate.”
A council spokesman added: “The intention of the re-assessment is just to make sure everything is in order by ensuring that people receive the maximum amount of benefits and allowances they are entitled to whilst also making sure they are contributing, if necessary, what they need to.”
He said there was “no relationship between the re-assessments and the current economic situation”.
28 April 2010