RAF veteran forced out of care home when savings ran out after council failings

John Lambert overpaid thousands of pounds after Merton Council breached its duty to part-fund his care for six months during the Covid pandemic.

31 March 2022

A Second World War veteran with dementia was forced out of his nursing home during the coronavirus pandemic when his money ran out after his local council failed to fund part of his care.

John Lambert overpaid tens of thousands of pounds for the care he received between May and December 2020, when his local authority should have been contributing to his fees.

Merton Council in south-west London did not tell his family how much it would pay until August – by which time he was months in arrears and a few weeks away from being served an eviction notice by his care home.

Instead, it repeatedly tried to move him to cheaper care homes, despite being told this would be “very unsettling” and traumatic for him, and that his relatives would cover the difference in fees.

His family used his remaining savings and state pension to pay off the debt but could not afford to continue paying for his care in full so he moved into his daughter’s flat.

They brought a case against the council, supported by the RAF Benevolent Fund, and were later refunded more than £45,000 after an ombudsman ruled that the council had breached its duty of care to step in.

Merton Council said it accepted the findings and apologised to the family for the undue stress caused by its errors.

Jane Lambert said the family had felt “lost and frightened” and were “appalled” that the council wanted to move her father, who was frail, could not walk and had fallen four times in one month.

She told the PA news agency: “It’s scandalous that at the heart of this is our 96-year-old dad, who never owed a penny in his life and did charity work until he was 90, and was never in debt. And Merton should be ashamed.”

Receiving the eviction notice “was one of the worst days of our lives”, she added.

Mr Lambert joined the RAF in 1942 at the age of 18, serving until the end of the war in the Bomber Coastal Command, flying Lancaster bombers and Sunderland Flying Boats in North Africa, the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

He moved into his private care home in 2017 when he was 93, covering the then £1,400-a-week fees in full from the sale of the family home.

Under the current system, which is being reformed, when residents’ assets fall below £23,250 the council starts contributing to the cost of their care.

In early 2020 Ms Lambert completed forms so the council could assess how much it would start contributing as her father was expected to reach that point in May.

The family were insistent that they would cover any gap between the care home fees and the council’s contribution, with help from the RAF Benevolent Fund.

Instead of setting out how much it would pay, the council decided to move Mr Lambert to a cheaper care home – but did not assess the potential risk in doing so.

His family objected as he would have to isolate for 14 days on arrival and adjust to new surroundings, and they could not inspect suggested homes due to coronavirus restrictions.

The care home also told the council it would be “very unsettling” for him to move, but the council responded saying the home’s fees were too high and it would only pay the “going rate”.

The RAF Benevolent Fund provided the family with an advocate to support the family as they challenged the council.

Ms Lambert said: “It was a nightmare. And I just worry about other families.

John Lambert care home stay
John Lambert (back row second left) during his RAF days.

“If we had been without our advocate, Dad would have just been pushed off into another home and would probably have died from a broken heart.”

While they waited for the council to say how much it would contribute to his care, Mr Lambert’s bills were racking up.

His family used his capital to pay for his care up until November, but at that point ran out of money for future fees and, following a series of needs assessments by Richmond Council, he moved into his daughter’s flat in Teddington in December.

He was looked after by his daughter and a team of home carers, with the RAF Benevolent Fund measuring him for a customised wheelchair so he could visit the park, which he loved.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman later ruled that Merton Council had failed to assess Mr Lambert’s needs, the risk of him moving, or agree a budget.

In the ruling last summer, which caused Ms Lambert to burst into tears, it said the council should refund Mr Lambert for the cost of his care, minus his share, apologise to the family and pay £400 for distress and time.

Mr Lambert lived with his daughter until August 2021, when he moved into a nursing home in Richmond for round-the-clock care, and died last November.

Correspondence seen by PA suggests more residents have since experienced similar problems getting Merton Council to set out a timely personal budget.

A spokesman for the council said: “The council wishes to apologise again to the Lambert family for errors on its part and any undue stress caused as a result.

“As the article states, this case was dealt with via the Local Authority Ombudsman.

“The council accepted the findings and has put in place the agreed actions and recommendations of the ombudsman as a result.”

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