A woman accumulated large debt after a miscommunication led her to believe Essex County Council would pay for her mother’s care, according to a local government watchdog.

The woman, referred to as Ms X by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, believed the council would pay for a care home it had arranged for her mother, facing a debt for unpaid contributions.

The Ombudsman found the council at fault for causing Ms X and her family "avoidable confusion and distress". The county council has apologised to the family and paid Ms X £200 to recognise the distress caused.

The Ombudsman said Mrs Y, the woman’s mother, moved to the new home in February 2018, after early concerns about the quality of care at her previous home, according to the Ombudsman’s report.

Ms X had a phone call with a social worker, during which she asked if the council would sign the contract on Mrs Y’s behalf and agree the care costs.

In response, the social worker said the price would be agreed "at this end", which Ms X understood as meaning they would fund all of the costs of the care home.

She then sent an email to the council asking for confirmation of this in writing, to which the council did not reply, according to the report.

The Ombudsman said a transcript of the conversation showed it was "open to interpretation" and the council should have followed this up with an email or letter which confirmed the funding would need to be assessed.

In March that year, the council wrote to Ms X apologising for her dissatisfaction with the previous home and offering to wipe the £814 in care home fees she owed at the time.

This could also have led the family to believe the council would be paying for the care, according to the Ombudsman.

However the Ombudsman acknowledged councils legally have to assess how much people should pay towards their care, and that Ms X would always have had to contribute to the costs, which it says limits the injustice caused.

In addition to apologising and compensating the family, the council has shared the Ombudsman’s decision with its staff in an attempt to stop future misunderstandings from happening.

A council spokesperson said: "We have acknowledged and accepted the findings of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the recommendations contained in the report.

"We remain dedicated to ensuring all our residents receive the highest quality of care and are committed to learning to improve."