More legal protection needed for self-funding care home residents, says Age UK


Self-funding care home residents need greater legal protection as the shortage of money in the sector leaves them exposed to increased risk of exploitation, according to a charity.

Age UK said calls to its information line "expose the problems people face navigating a complex market" and difficulties when contract terms are unfair or unclear.

Cases detailed in the report, which the charity said were representative of calls received, included relatives asked to guarantee care fees and accept joint liability "on demand" and unexpected or arbitrary fee increases such for reasons such as residents deemed to have high dependency needs.

Charges for extras, which in one case included repeated bills for an entertainer, have also been reported, as have notice periods of four weeks amounting to thousands of pounds in charges, even where the resident was only in the home for a short time, Age UK said.

The report said self-funders were "ultimately paying the price" for care home providers finding themselves under increasing financial pressure following cuts in public funding for social care, which in turn was forcing local authorities to drive down prices.

People who pay for their own care pay higher fees than local authorities, so relatives are being asked to sign contracts agreeing that, if the person's money runs out and they become eligible for local authority funding, they will either not approach the local authority for support or will top up the local authority fees

Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams said: "We are worried that too many older people who pay for their own care home fees are getting a raw deal and are unfairly being asked to pay the price for a failing care system.

"They not only often face eye-wateringly high weekly rates, calls to our helpline show that some are being asked to pay even more in ways that most of us would regard as 'sharp practice' as care homes struggle to keep the lights on.

"There is no doubt in our view that self-funders deserve greater legal protection from unfair care home contracts and charges that are over the top. It also seems crazy that a hale and hearty 30-year-old who rents a flat enjoys more security of tenure than an 85-year-old with dementia and diabetes who lives in a care home.

"Surely the time has come to give these vulnerable older people their proper legal rights."