My Lords, I rise briefly—I fear that that will be the last time that I will use the word “briefly” tonight—to speak to Amendment 104ZB in my name in this group. This is another bits and pieces group; my amendment does not relate to the excellent speech just made by my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley.
Clause 64 enables a local authority to recover money owed to it in connection with the provision of care and support. A person’s failure to disclose any material fact would make them liable to recovery proceedings. However—and this is the nub—it would do so even if they had done so inadvertently. This seems terribly draconian and might well deter people from taking steps, such as asking for a direct payment, which they might perceive as carrying the risk of legal proceedings. This clause should refer only to misrepresentation, and the deliberate failure to disclose information, rather than incorporating, as it does, accidental failure.
These decisions of where to apply for help are taken at time of acute stress in many families. There may have been an incident, such as a fall or a stroke, which has changed the picture for that family entirely. At that stage, the last thing that people want to worry about is whether they have inadvertently failed to disclose some piece of information and will have legal proceedings taken as a result.
I cite an example given to me by Age UK, which was contacted by a husband whose wife has dementia. She has a private bank account that she will not let her family have access to, and discussions of financial arrangements upset her terribly, so he has not yet gained a power of attorney over her affairs. Despite knowing that his wife has assets, her husband is paying for everything relating to her care with his benefits and pensions. He feels that he could not make an accurate disclosure of her assets that would be necessary to get the benefits to which he is entitled. Imagine how that person would feel when faced with this clause and the danger that an inadvertent failure to disclose fully would lead to the local authority taking him to court.