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Families picking up the tab for ‘free’ care home places

Cherry Reynard
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Cherry Reynard

Almost a quarter of older people who are legally entitled to a free care home space are having their fees topped up by their family, according to a report by Age UK.

The report said the care system “seems to be riddled with hidden unfairness”. While an elderly person requiring residential care should be able to qualify for council funded care on the basis of their needs, significant numbers of older people fall foul of the means test, disqualifying them from financial help until they have run down their assets to £23,250.

The report stated that 48,400 older people – equivalent to 24% of council funded care home residents – were currently paying top up fees, which ranged from £25 a week to over £100. It warned the payments represented a stealth tax on older people and their families in a care system.

Age UK said that the problem was often down to an inadequate choice of care homes at the council rate. This left families forced to pay for an adequate care home place.

The Report added: “Against the context of a care system that is woefully underfunded, in which councils are struggling to fulfil their legal duties and many care homes find it tremendously hard to provide decent care for older people on council rates, top ups are at risk of being unfairly exploited, with families the biggest losers.”

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, said: “Families are finding themselves in horrible situations, such as knowing that unless they pay up their older relative will have to live in a care home that is so far away they will be cut off from everyone they know.

“In some cases families are being asked to pay a lot more than they can afford and in others we have heard of families under pressure not to dispute an unfair request for a ‘top up’, when their loved one is in hospital and ready to leave, because otherwise it would take even longer for them to be discharged.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman,said: “While some people choose to ‘top-up’ their care in order to have a more expensive service, legally the local authority must ensure that people have a genuine choice of accommodation by making at least one option available and affordable within the person’s budget.”

See YourMoney.com’s ‘Will I have to pay my own care home fees?’ and ‘How to minimise the cost of care home fees’.