An ex-councillor says Waltham Forest Council’s social care charging system is a “dire mess” after his brother was sent a £6,000 debt collection letter.

Tony O’Rourke, 59, has moderate to severe learning disabilities and is cared for through a combination of funding from the council and deductions from his benefits.

Last month, his brother James O’Rourke was shocked to discover that the council’s debt recovery team had sent Tony a letter saying he owed £6,259 for his home care.

This came after James reviewed Tony’s finances and realised the council had deducted “around £500” too much from his brother’s benefits between April and August.

This was because the council had not applied the Government’s new ‘minimum income guarantee’ which ensures that some benefits always stay in the pockets of people paying for home care.

James told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “I’m exasperated with this, I’m a social worker and have been doing care treatment packages for people in mental health or on the verge of it.

“I’m in a situation at the moment where one part of the council is telling me that Tony is owed money and on the other it is demanding £6,000

“If I’m exasperated with it, imagine if he was living with his 83-year-old mother with them saying he owes £6,000 – it is unreal.

“For me, their systems are buggered, if they’re buggered for Tony O’Rourke they must be for others. How many other people are affected by these errors?”

In response to a formal complaint about the deductions, council leader Cllr Grace Williams emailed James last month saying a “comprehensive review” of Tony’s deductions had highlighted “discrepancies within our system”.

When contacted for comment by the LDRS, cabinet member for adults Cllr Louise Mitchell said the deductions and debt letter were being urgently investigated and apologised for any concern caused.

She added: “We are in contact with the family, and will continue to work with them to resolve the problems and provide them the peace of mind they need.”

In the last week, James has been told the debt recovery letter may have been sent in error.

A council spokesperson declined to comment on James’ suggestion that other disabled people may have been overcharged, suggesting that Tony’s case is “unique”

They later shared a link to government guidance for social care charging.

The former Lib Dem councillor, who now works as a social worker, said the problems with his brother’s finances have highlighted a wider issue of councils deducting from disabled people’s benefits.

By his analysis, a quarter of his brother’s benefits are taken by the council for his care.

He said: “The Government is giving him some money to live and the council is taking that away because the Government is not giving the council enough to support him.

“It’s just madness… I’m so angry at the moment.

“Why don’t politicians come out and debate this? If there’s a campaign to fix this nationally I would get behind the council.”

James was nonetheless thankful for his brother’s accommodation, which he called “wonderful”.

Jon Abrams, campaigns and justice coordinator at Inclusion London, said the problem of deductions from benefits is “widespread” across London and England.

He added: “In the current situation there are tens of thousands of disabled people being charged on their welfare and state pensions.

“They have little capital or income and local authorities can charge them or take benefits.

“Over the last year I’ve heard stories that as the government increases benefits, local authorities will reassess people and say ‘oh, more income, we’ll take some of that’.

“But these are extra benefits that the government is giving for the cost of living.”

Jon also pointed out that in 2016 Labour-run Hammersmith and Fulham announced it would be the first London council to scrap all charges for social care at home.