AN MP has called for 'root and branch reform' of the social care system after a 97-year-old woman was left 'shaking and crying' after receiving a two-year backdated care bill for £7,000.

The woman, whose family have asked The Northern Echo not to name, was faced with the bill due to a provision in the Care Act 2014, which came into force in 2016, and allows councils to backdate bills.

But it took four years, and was not until 2018, when a finance officer from Darlington Borough Council visited the elderly lady, who worked in factories as part of the Second World War effort, to assess her care costs properly. She had been visited by a social worker in 2014 for a care assessment but no finance officer checked the costs at that time.

Now Darlington Labour MP Jenny Chapman is calling for reform after dealing with the woman's family.

Since receiving the initial bill the woman's family said the demands for payment had become more aggressive, with threats of court action, leaving the woman, who is in independent living sheltered housing, 'worried sick'.

She began needing visits from carers in 2014 when her health started to decline, but her daughter still provides a lot of her care.

Now her daughter has asked for the bills to be sent to her so her mother is not worrying about them.

The woman's family complained and the council investigated, and upheld just one part of her complaint, that they should have assessed the costs at the start of the extra care.

Age Concern said it was seeing more similar cases since the Care Act came into force, but the backdated payments were up to six months in most cases – not two years as in this case. The Care Act also stipulates that local authorities must 'promote wellbeing' when dealing with social care and payments – something the woman's daughter said they had failed to do in this case.

She is now planning on complaining to the Local Government Ombudsman and has been seeking advice from Darlington MP Jenny Chapman on the issue.

She said: "I do wonder how many older people this has happened to and they are so frightened by the demands for payment that they just pay the amount. Older people hate owing money and they are easily frightened by things like this.

"Ours hasn't been worked out correctly and until it does I'm not paying it.

"She was getting invoices sent every month and it was causing a lot of distress to a frail elderly lady. When she got the initial bill for £7,000 her hands were shaking and she was tearful."

She said since querying the bill it had been reduced by nearly £1,000 but said she struggled as she 'never got a straight answer' out of the council.

Ms Chapman said: "Social care rules and how they are interpreted by councils are throwing up cases like this. There is a need for root and branch reform of social care policy because of cases like this one. I will continue to work with this lady's family to get a sufficient outcome."

It is understood that the council has offered a small amount of compensation as acknowledgement of the delayed financial assessment and also offered to put a payment plan in place to reduce the impact of the backdated charges.

A Darlington Borough Council spokesman said: “We have investigated the complaint thoroughly and feel that we have been fair in our response.

"We have advised the family of their right to refer this matter to the Local Government Ombudsman if they wish.

"If this was to happen, the council would co-operate fully with the Ombudsman.”