Leyton News

Learning disabled man hounded for £6,000 ‘in error’ by council

Tony’s brother fears other vulnerable people could fall victim to the “dire mess” of the council’s charging system
By Local Democracy Reporter Josh Mellor

Tony O'Rourke is learning disabled and reliant on at-home care (credit: James O'Rourke)
Tony O’Rourke is learning disabled and reliant on at-home care (credit: James O’Rourke)

A Leyton man with learning disabilities was hounded “in error” for more than £6,000 debt by Waltham Forest Council.

Last month, social worker James O’Rourke found a letter to his 59-year-old disabled brother Tony from the council’s debt recovery team demanding £6,259 for his home care.

Tony’s care is funded by the council, who take part of his benefits to help pay for it, and only a few months previously James had also discovered the council deducted “around £500” too much between April and August.

Yesterday, a council staff member finally confirmed to James that the more than £6,000 charge was “generated in error”, apologising for any “frustration and anxiety” caused.

However, James feels the series of errors shows the council’s charging system is “a dire mess” and feels other vulnerable people could also be being overcharged.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “One part of the council was telling me that Tony was owed money and the other was demanding £6,000!

“If I’m exasperated with it, imagine if he was living with his 83-year-old mother with them saying he owes £6,000 – it is unreal.

“For me, their systems are buggered and, if they’re buggered for Tony O’Rourke, they must be for others. How many other people are affected by these errors?”

In response to a formal complaint about the deductions, council leader Grace Williams emailed James last month saying a “comprehensive review” of Tony’s deductions had highlighted “discrepancies within our system”.

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When previously contacted for comment by the LDRS, cabinet member for adults Louise Mitchell said the deductions and debt letter were being urgently investigated and apologised for any concern caused.

She added: “We are in contact with the family, and will continue to work with them to resolve the problems and provide them the peace of mind they need.”

A council spokesperson declined to comment on James’ suggestion that other disabled people may have been overcharged, suggesting that Tony’s case is “unique”

James, a former Lib Dem councillor, feels the problems with his brother’s finances have highlighted a wider issue of councils deducting from disabled people’s benefits. By his analysis, a quarter of his brother’s benefits are taken by the council for his care.

He said: “The government is giving him some money to live and the council is taking that away because the government is not giving the council enough to support him. It’s just madness… I’m so angry at the moment.

“Why don’t politicians come out and debate this? If there’s a campaign to fix this nationally I would get behind the council.”

Jon Abrams, campaigns and justice coordinator at Inclusion London, said the problem of deductions from benefits is “widespread” across London and England.

He added: “In the current situation there are tens of thousands of disabled people being charged on their welfare and state pensions. They have little capital or income and local authorities can charge them or take benefits.

“Over the last year I’ve heard stories that as the government increases benefits, local authorities will reassess people and say ‘oh, more income, we’ll take some of that’. But these are extra benefits that the government is giving for the cost of living.”

Jon also pointed out that in 2016 Labour-run Hammersmith and Fulham announced it would be the first London council to scrap all charges for social care at home.

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