The Health Information and Quality Authority has said a residential centre for people with disabilities used residents' personal funds to transport them to a hospital and to shops despite the absence of a contractual agreement to do so.

The watchdog also found that the facility in Palmerstown in Dublin, which is run by the Stewarts Care organisation, failed to deal appropriately with cases of potential physical abuse relating to two residents.

Stewarts Care revealed it had established an internal review of safeguarding concerns relating to an unspecified number of the organisation's centres.

At the time of last October's pre-announced inspection of the centre in west Dublin, 14 people with intellectual disabilities lived there in two separate community-based dwellings.

Today's report says that of the 11 standards inspected, the centre failed seriously to comply with six, and was in full compliance with only two.

Inspectors found what they call "substantial misunderstandings" in the Stewarts Care organisation about additional charges to be incurred by residents.

One resident had paid €99 in the space of one month for taxi journeys to and from hospital. And two residents were each charged almost €22 (€21.78) for local shopping trips during the same month.

However, the report states that the contracts of care for the residents concerned contained no details of such additional charges.

While the centre's Person In Charge said the practice of residents paying for transportation was standard and had been agreed with senior management, the inspectors could find no organisational policy outlining the criteria for applying charges.

And Stewart Care's Director of Care told them that no residents were incurring any transport charges.

The report states that Stewarts Care had failed to deal appropriately with cases of potential physical abuse relating to two residents.

The Person In Charge told inspectors that a policy on restrictive practices was in place. However, the report says this could not be located during the inspection. 

Stewarts Care told an inspector it had ongoing concerns about the identification and reporting of abuse allegations in the centre and in an unspecified number of other centres it runs.

It showed HIQA the terms of reference for an internal committee established to review these concerns.

Founded in 1869, Stewarts Care Ltd is a voluntary organisation which has been providing comprehensive community-based day and residential services to 775 adults and children with an intellectual disability.

It says services are predominantly delivered in the community of Dublin/mid-Leinster, in partnership with the Health Service Executive.

Originally an institutional residence in a hospital on the Palmerstown Campus, since the early 1970s the organisation has been developing community housing and now manages in excess of 30 individual community homes spread throughout local communities.

It also runs residential services in 25 housing units in a village-like environment on its main campus in Palmerstown. 

In a statement tonight the Stewarts Care organistaion said the position articulated by the Director of Care on the payments was the correct one and said residents should not have been incurring charges associated with transportation.

The organisation said an immediate adjustment was made to clarify procedures that no service user would any longer be required to pay for taxis or transportation costs that might be incurred in fulfilling their care regime or meeting their ongoing medical needs. 

On investigation it emerged also that although some people were 'billed', in the majority of instances they were actually never charged. Where the charge was levied all inappropriate charges will be reinstated. 

As a follow up, Stewarts Care has said it is overhauling the provisions of its contract of care, specifically in respect of the finances of residents. 

On the issue of safeguarding, Stewarts Care said that on foot of concerns raised over a number of HIQA inspections, an internal review group was established last Autumn to report with recommendations to the board. Its final report is expected by the end of March.