A county council is among several local authorities that have been forced to pay compensation for the distress they caused by wrongly charging families for the care of their elderly and vulnerable relatives.

In the last five years Hertfordshire County Council was found to be among several councils that have been criticised on at least one occasion by a government watchdog over their handling of charging for care services, a Newsquest Investigation found.

Between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2019, a total of three complaints against the county council were upheld by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

In one case in 2015 the county council was at fault in changing its charging policy so that it contradicted the terms of its contract with a care home.

It was also at fault in not informing a man, referred to as Mr B, of the change which affected the amount he would have to pay for his mother’s respite care. Mr B was given £303 to put matters right.

A year later another case saw the county council fail to review the financial assessment of a man referred to as Mr X, when his wife left their jointly-owned property to live in the same care home as him.

This resulted in the care provider charging a higher rate of fees than it would otherwise have done.

It also meant Mr X did not receive benefits advice when he should have done.

The county council offered to reduce the debt by charging the council rate of fees and also agreed to make a time and trouble payment to his daughter.

In 2018 a man referred to as Mr C complained the county council failed to disregard his aunt’s property as part of her financial assessment for residential care.

However, the Ombudsman only found fault with regards to a delay that occurred, which did not cause a "significant injustice".

Hertfordshire County Council says the cases "are historic in nature" and were resolved at the time to the satisfaction of the Ombudsman.

A spokesperson said: "We always support people to understand the charges they will need to pay for care and support as set out in statute; we have a team which is very experienced in these matters. Sometimes a person’s financial circumstances are complex and determining the charge which is due can be complicated.

“We have recently made some changes to ensure that all staff who work in this area are skilled in all aspects of assessing what someone is required to pay and ways of paying (including options for deferring payments). When complaints arise we investigate these carefully and ensure learning points are shared to continually improve our processes and ensure the customer is at the heart of what we do.”

Nationally, 80 per cent of the 152 councils with responsibility for adult social care have been criticised on at least one occasion over their handling of charging for care services.

Some local authorities have proven repeat offenders – with councils in Staffordshire, Norfolk, North Yorkshire, The Wirral, East Sussex, Essex and Lancashire ranked as having had the most complaints about charging for care upheld by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman over the last five years.

Professor Martin Green OBE, chief executive of Care England, said: “The high level of Ombudsman decisions about care funding is a reflection of the fact that there is no clarity about what the citizen has to pay, and what is paid for by government. Social care funding is in need of immediate reform.

"The reforms must include a significant cash injection to stabilise the current system, and a long-term view from government about what the citizen is expected to pay, and what will be funded by the public purse."