I support the concerns of Councillor Stuart Currie, that allowing charging decisions to be made behind closed doors, affecting vulnerable groups, would lead to hikes in charges for people on fixed incomes.

Previously, charges for adult wellbeing care services were subject to full cabinet approval and, even then, council officials were able to substantially increase these charges, through the back door, without cabinet or public scrutiny.

In 2011 the care at home charges for the severely disabled were increased by over £1,500 a year, which impacted on a group of 50 of the most vulnerable people in East Lothian, raising an extra £75,000 each year.

On being challenged, officials stated that the rates for 2011/12 had been agreed at an ELC Cabinet meeting on March 29, 2011. The report to cabinet, however, said: “The Single Person under 60 years, Severe Disability Premium banding would be discontinued. The Charging Threshold (which is the level at which charges begin to apply) for these clients would fall from £169/week to £155/week.” This change would have resulted in an increase of £328 per annum. However, a threshold of £109/week was in fact applied, which accounts for the £1,500 increase.

On asking how the change from the £155 to £109 was authorised, it took officials four months to decide that the £155/week in the report had been a typing error and it should have read £109, but as everyone at the meeting knew it was meant to be £109, then it was OK to apply this rate. No attempt was ever made by officials to correct the “typing error” or bring it to the attention of our elected councillors for authorisation.

This supposition was challenged and it was argued that the £1,500 increase had not been democratically authorised. In March 2013 the case eventually went before a Complaints Review Committee (CRC) made up of three independent external people with knowledge of social work matters. They decided that the report had been considered and approved on the basis of the figures the cabinet had before them. Adoption of the £109 rate was therefore outwith the terms of what was approved by cabinet.

The committee, having taken advice from the legal adviser, considered the complaint justified and stated that East Lothian Council should issue an appropriate refund.

This recommendation was put forward to the Social Works Appeals Sub-Committee (SWASC) for final determination on the matter. This took place in June 2013 and comprised of Provost Ludovic Broun-Lindsay and Councillors Willie Innes and Jim Gillies.

Their unanimous decision was to agree with the council officials to overturn the recommendations of the CRC on the grounds that it was unreasonable for the CRC to reach for conclusion that it did; not to mention the expressed concern of the sub-committee as to how they would explain to the auditors the need to refund a substantial amount of money.

At a time when increased transparency was being called for, all of the above happened without any public scrutiny. The severely disabled can be seen by some as a soft touch and need more not less protection.

I therefore support the call by Councillor Currie to the leaders of Labour/Tory council to confirm that any future increases in adult care charges will go to full council for scrutiny, by all councillors, before decisions are made.

P McGowan Gullane