Debt collectors instructed by Shropshire Council contacted a man nearly three years after his mother had died to demand £5,000 in unpaid care fees from her estate.

The council has apologised and reduced the amount owed after acknowledging it failed to update records of the man’s address and did not follow its own debt collection policy timescales.

A report from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman says the council caused the complainant “distress and uncertainty”.

The report says the man’s mother had been paying the council a contribution towards her domiciliary care between 2014 and May 2018, when she moved into a care home.

She then paid a contribution of her care home fees until August 2018, when she became entirely self-funded and paid the home directly.

The council found the direct debit had been cancelled in the June, and sent three invoices to the complainant, named in the report as Mr X, for his mother’s outstanding fees. However the letters were sent to a previous address.

The ombudsman report says in December 2018, Mr X requested a Deferred Payment Agreement (DPA) from the council, which included details of his current address. The agreement meant the council would pay his mother’s care fees as a loan against the value of her property.

Mr X’s mother died just a few days after the DPA request was made, owing £4,112.78, plus £711.96 from the DPA period.

Shortly afterwards, Mr X informed the authority of a change of his address.

But the report says the council did not make any further attempts to recover the outstanding payments until February 2021, when it sent a letter to Mr X’s old address.

In August 2021, the council instructed a debt enforcement agency and another letter was sent to the wrong address.

In September 2021, debt collectors contacted Mr X by phone to demand the outstanding £4,950.52.

Mr X complained to the council, saying it was “distressing” to receive a call out of the blue from debt collectors when no previous attempts had been made to contact him.

The report says the council apologised and removed £711.96 from the debt in acknowledgement that the invoice for this had been sent to his old address after it was aware of his new address. It said £4,112.78 was still owed.

The council also apologised for the delay, which it blamed on resource constraints and the suspension of debt recovery during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ombudsman said the council was at fault for not updating its records after it was informed of Mr X’s change of address.

It also dismissed the council’s claims that the pandemic was behind the delay, pointing out that the onset of the pandemic was 15 months after the woman’s death.

The report continues: “Whilst debt recovery at the council was suspended for part of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was a further 11 months before the council wrote to Mr X again and a further six months before the matter was sent to enforcement agents. This is delay and is fault.”

The ombudsman was satisfied with the council’s actions in apologising and reducing the debt and did not require any further steps to be taken.

The report adds: “The council have also provided us with evidence of service improvements it has made by changes to its debt collection process for adult social care. This is appropriate action to ensure the fault does not reoccur.”

Councillor Gwilym Butler, cabinet member for finance and corporate resources, said: “We recognise it has been a difficult process for all involved and have apologised to the individual for any failings made on our behalf.

“We welcome the findings from the ombudsman and we will be reviewing our processes in light of this report.”