2014-01-10 14:22:23 - In a front page lead by journalist Alexi Mostrous - staff at one of Britain’s biggest charities subjected vulnerable care home residents to years of "serious and systematic financial abuse"
The Royal Mencap Society has paid out more than £60,000 to five severely disabled clients at one home after careers spent their money on hundreds of unauthorised purchases.
Residents of Dolphin Court, a Mencap care home, were inappropriately charged tens of thousands of pounds for items including gardening equipment, DVDs, Chinese takeaways and alcohol, according to the financial records seen by the Times.
One severely disabled Dolphin Court resident was charged £126 for a karaoke machine despite not being able to speak. Another, who is not capable of understanding television, was billed for five DVDs, including American Gigolo and Bridget Jones's Diary.
A third was charged £100 for "a shower in the family home" even though no shower was installed, according to the
person's family. A fourth received only £1000 out of £2500 withdrawn from his account.
Stuart McCulley, 46, a resident of Dolphin Court, was charged more than £200 for alcohol and bingo during a four-day holiday taken with two carers on the QE2.
"Stuart's disabilities are so severe that he would have no comprehension of playing bingo," his sister Nicki Frampton, said.
Finacare, a company jointly set up by Ms Frampton to safeguard the finances of at-risk adults, has so far successfully recovered £61,827 for five people in Dolphin Court in recompense for mischarged items, administrative errors, and missing receipts.
Ms Frampton, a bookkeeper, decided to set up a company to claim back money on behalf of other Dolphin Court residents who had been over charged similar amounts. Mencap had previously offered each residents' families only £1,500 in compensation. "I had a conversation (with a Mencap staff member) where she told me that other residents were owed the same, if not more than Stuart," she said. "So I was horrified when they only offered £1,500 to the families, and decided to attempt to get the correct amounts back for those people."
Three weeks before Christmas, Jan Tregelles, Mencap's chief executive, threatened to terminate Mr McCulley's place at Dolphin Court because of his sister's links to Finacare. The threat has been retracted.
Jan Tregelles, who earns £137,000 a year, wrote to Mr McCulley's elderly parents informing them of her decision to "terminate the contract to provide Stuart with care".
Mr McCulley had not misbehaved or flouted any internal procedures. Instead, Mencap had decided to remove him because of his sister's links to a company that has successfully claimed back more than £60,000 from the charity on behalf of five Dolphin Court residents.
At least one other family of a resident in a Portsmouth care home has claimed that he was overcharged, Ms Frampton said "I don't think the procedures are in place to safeguard against financial abuse and I don't think that staff are adhering to procedures that are there," she said.
Mencap has denied this.
Some of the auditing mistakes, including those that led to double charging and missing benefits, stemmed from Mencap's central finance office in Peterborough, Ms Frampton said. Mencap denied this, stating that an audit of its central accounting office had found "no concerns regarding duplicate charging".
Overall, since 2011 nine Mencap care homes, including Dolphin Court, have been found by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to fail to "safeguard people who use services from abuse" an inspection category that includes financial abuse. All have since been retested and found to comply.
In correspondence with Ms Frampton, Mencap accepted that many purchases made by Dolphin Court staff should not have been charged for.
Mencap However, it said that some spending highlighted by Finacare was legitimate. It said it was confident that it had appropriate financial procedures in place across its 128 registered care homes to prevent financial abuse.
A CQC spokesman said that the regulator “does not have the legal power to carry out retrospective investigations.” It said the local authorities were the lead agencies for safeguarding people from abuse”.
Stephen Dorrell, MP, a former Health Secretary and now chairman of the health Select Committee, said: “Just to establish that there are processes isn’t enough. Either they have to satisfy themselves that the processes have been properly carried through or they have to outsource it to an accountant.”
Shadow care minister Liz Kendall said: “This case raises serious questions about whether the CQC properly inspects and monitors financial abuse.”
The Department of Health said the Care Bill, currently before Parliament, will place a duty on local authorities to investigate suspected financial abuse.”