Ethos of ‘brotherliness’ led disability provider to take excessive resident payments

Camphill Communities took €265,000 in ‘inappropriate’ resident contributions

A less conventional provider of disability services, Camphill Communities of Ireland describes its ethos as a "way of life" where each person contributes what they can "towards the well-being of the other".

Funded by the Health Service Executive, the organisation runs 15 residential centres for people with intellectual disabilities which have about 180 residents.

A series of recent internal reviews, seen by The Irish Times, reveal that the organisation’s philosophy of community living led to more than €265,000 in residents’ money being inappropriately used to fund the running of its centres.

Camphill had previously introduced a policy whereby residents would contribute a maximum of half of their weekly disability allowance towards the running of the centres.

One review found that at its Ballybay, Co Monaghan centre, residents' care contracts stated there would be a "minimum contribution" of 50 per cent. This was in "direct conflict" with the organisation's policy, with one resident found to be paying Camphill 82 per cent of their disability allowance. The review, completed last May, examined resident contributions between 2007 and 2020, and found €88,000 should be repaid to residents.

Residents’ contributions were increased from mid-2016 due to the centre’s “financial difficulty” to an average of two thirds of their disability allowance. The report said these contributions were incorrectly categorised as “donations”. The funds were used to support the “financial sustainability” of the centre, with “no substantial evidence” to suggest the money was spent on personal items or activities for individual residents, it said.

A review of Camphill's Grangemockler, Co Tipperary centre found that €90,000 was deducted from the accounts of a group of eight residents to build a wellness centre. It said "informed consent was not explicitly given" for the deductions, the facility was never built and that the funds should be repaid.

In another instance, one resident’s generosity was said to have been “exploited” with staff neglecting their “duty of care” by allowing him to take all members of the community out for dinner, which cost the man €1,877.

A resident in another centre was found to be owed more than €40,000 after his pension was “marked as a donation” and paid directly to a Camphill account for eight years in the 2000s.

An internal review into the Kyle, Co Kilkenny centre similarly found a decision to seek extra contributions from residents was "flawed" due to a lack of informed consent or proper financial accountability.

The review, completed last year, said a “localised system of deductions from residents’ finances” started in around 2005. Consent was only sought “retrospectively up to a number of years after the introduction of the charges”, it said. Management at the centre had applied service charges and sought additional contributions from residents in the spirit of “brotherliness”, and the review said there was no evidence of “ill intent or criminality” behind the policy.

Set up in the 1970s, Camphill traditionally relied heavily on volunteers who embraced its “community living” concept. In recent years the organisation has moved to provide more oversight of local centres from its head office.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said it became aware of “historical inappropriate use of residents’ personal finances” at Camphill in mid-2019. The healthcare watchdog instructed the organisation to carry out a review in each of its centres, and to inform the Garda and HSE of the matter.

Camphill’s latest financial accounts state that it has repaid €269,685 to residents in relation to the inappropriate contributions.

In a statement, Camphill said it had transitioned from a volunteer-led model into a “nationally governed organisation” in late 2018, after which it identified legacy issues in some centres. The organisation said the past payment of additional contributions was not in line with its policies or principles, “regardless of any extenuating or historic circumstances”.

Camphill said the money owed to residents had been repaid, with the help of the HSE. The organisation “continues to engage with families to ensure that residents have appropriate control over their money and possessions, in line with best practice and guidelines,” it said.

The organisation had also since “enhanced its internal controls” and oversight, to ensure residents’ money was properly safeguarded, it said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times

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