Vulnerable people hit with huge bills

BILLS of up to £2,000 were due to drop on the doormats of more than 500 of the most vulnerable people across West Sussex this week according to campaigners.

The County Times reported recently how West Sussex County Council’s new IT system, introduced in June, led to delays in billing.

The new system for adults’ services was designed to integrate care planning, purchasing and charging but the council said there were some ‘teething issues as it has proved more complex than anticipated to reconcile data from different sources’.

Chief executive Kieran Stigant apologised to residents and thanked suppliers for their patience.

The Don’t Cut Us Out Campaign said: “The system has cost West Sussex Country Council millions to develop, has run massively over budget and was introduced well behind schedule.

“It has failed to invoice and collect a ‘tax’ on the benefit payments individuals receive from central government, which the council takes as a contribution towards their local care services, which now leaves many disabled and elderly severely in debt.”

The Don’t Cut Us Out Campaign is concerned that many of these vulnerable people will be unable to repay the money.

“What a Christmas present! This mess is going to cause huge stress,” said Barry Pickthall, spokesman for the campaign.

“Many of those with learning disabilities are unable to read or even comprehend money, and the council cuts has, in many cases, taken away the support these people had to manage their lives.

“It was not until the end of October that the problem first came to light, and we worry that those who had spare money in their pocket, simply spent it.”

According to a Freedom of Information request lodged by the campaign, the total outstanding amounts to £467,000, and the average owed by 526 vulnerable people is £888, but campaigners say many owe much more than this.

Those affected have until March 31 to repay the money, though the council is offering to spread the repayments over a longer period.

“The problem here is that this ‘tax’ was increased this year from 85 per cent to 100 per cent of non-essential benefits, which leaves these individuals with just a few pounds of pocket money each week,” Mr Pickthall said.

“Few of these people will ever be in a position to repay the money.”

Senior care workers are questioning whether these bills for back payment will be correct.

“This Frameworki computer system has been wrong since day one. It is simply not fit for purpose,” said Pam Porter from the Apuldram Centre in Chichester, which supports more than 80 people with learning disabilities.

“We have been telling the council every week since the IT system was introduced that the information is wrong, but the system is never updated.

“Two of our people left Apuldram two weeks after Frameworki was introduced, yet even this week, six months later, it is still recording them as attendees.”

Staff at the Ferring Country Centre, which supports people with learning disabilities at its riding stables, garden centre and farm, are just as frustrated.

A spokesperson said. “For months, we have been pointing out to the council that the information produced by Frameworki is wrong, but nothing has been done to correct it.

“It was only this month that Amanda Rogers, the head of adult services finally allowed us to ignore the system and revert to the previous register.”

The Don’t Cut Us Out Campaign is running an emergency mobile helpline throughout the Christmas period to advise people affected by these claims.

“These invoices need to be checked very carefully,” said Mr Pickthall.

“From the information we have received, the amounts claimed are unlikely to tally with attendance and services many of these vulnerable people have actually received.

“We will help them question the amounts owed and take up individual cases with the Council”

The Don’t Cut Us Out emergency helpline is 07768 395719. Before December 23 and after January 3, the Day Helpline is 01243 555561.