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UPDATED: More cash for vulnerable adults overcharged by council
Repayments to vulnerable adults who were systematically overcharged for their council accommodation are to be massively increased.
A further £440,000 will be added to a £245,000 package of payments which the town hall was forced to concede two years ago should be returned to the residents.
The move is revealed in a document from Wirral Council adult social services director Graham Hodkinson and broadly follows recommendations made in an inquiry report published earlier this year by consultant Anna Klonowski.
It further vindicates whistleblower Martin Morton, who has claimed all along that the sum needed to repay residents was far above the £245,000 agreed in 2010.
Mr Morton said today: "Despite being disappointed that an overdue Freedom of Information request I made about the reimbursements has yet to be answered, this is indeed momentous news.
"The rightful decisions which have been finally reached as to the amount of the reimbursements that should be made to disabled people who were unlawfully charged was the main outcome I wanted from the Klonowski report.
"Despite Ms Klonowski not fully investigating the unlawful charging concerns I had about disabled tenants at Balls Road due to time constraints imposed on the publication of the independent review, I am doubly gratified that, finally, my allegations have been vindicated here also.
"However, I do feel that it is both tragic and unnecessary that this case should have taken 12 years to resolve - especially considering my career has been destroyed and there has been a catastrophic financial and reputational impact on the council."
Extra repayments totalling £320,000 will be made to 17 residents in properties in Curlew Way, Edgehill Road and Bermuda Road in Moreton, and will be backdated to 1997.
Thirteen tenants at accommodation in Balls Road, Birkenhead, were overcharged and reimbursement will amount to £30,000.
And at a home in North Road, Birkenhead, all nine tenants were overcharged and will be repaid £90,000.
Any tenants who were undercharged will not be required to repay the difference.
The repayments centre around a “special charging policy” which first came to light when Mr Morton, who was at the time a social services manager, repeatedly attempted to point out to senior executives in the department that it was unfair and probably illegal.
As a last resort, Mr Morton decided to invoke the council's official whistleblower policy, but was to find this only served to provoke yet more intransigence from those in management positions above him.
He was eventually paid £45,000 under a "compromise agreement" to leave the service and keep quiet.
Instead, in November of 2008, he approached the Globe and since then we have helped him tell his story.
An internal audit to examine Mr Morton's claims was eventually ordered and presented its findings in 2009.
It ruled that people living in three homes under so-called "special charging" conditions had paid too much and that the policy was in fact unlawful.
But Mr Morton’s shocking claims of abuse, malpractice and cover-ups were to have even more serious consequences for the council when they led to an investigation by independent consultant Anna Klonowski.
The Klonowski inquiry was commissioned by the then-leader of the council, Cllr Jeff Green, and took more than six months to complete at a cost to taxpayers of £250,000.
Ms Klonowski's highly-critical corporate governance review found that practices other authorities would consider abnormal had become commonplace in Wirral.
The chief executive at the time, Jim Wilkie, said Ms Klonowski’s findings represented the most serious challenge the council had faced.
But Mr Wilkie's determination to lead the response to the challenges presented by Klonowski was not to be, and after a prolonged period of sick leave he opted for early retirement.
Concern about Wirral was so acute that officials from the Local Government Association, which acts as the nationally-recognised "voice" of local authorities, have been sent in to oversee a major programme of change.
In a statement, Cllr Ann McLachlan, cabinet member for improvement and governance, said this week: “One of the major commitments we have made as we strive to become a better council is to act on all the recommendations made in Anna Klonowski’s report.
“As a result, we took the decision to approve these further reimbursements in line with her recommendations.”
Two senior social services managers to whom Mr Morton initially voiced his concerns about the "special charging policy" were suspended from work in 2008 following the Globe's exclusive reports.
They were later exonerated by the council of any wrong-doing and returned to their posts.
Both left the employment of the authority this year under compromise agreements immediately prior to the publication of Ms Klonowski's investigation.
What is a "compromise agreement"?
Compromise agreements are used a means of resolving workplace issues.
The advantage for the employer is that they are able to draw a line under an employee's departure or complaint and are protected from future claims.
The advantage for the employee is that the consideration, such as a financial sum, is received in return provided by a legally-binding contract.
The agreement provides for a severance payment, in return for which employees agree not to pursue any claim or grievance they may have in an employment tribunal.
Employers have for many years now increasingly used compromise agreements as a mechanism for preventing possible future complaints to a tribunal.