Two in five (41 per cent) of all residents in UK independent care homes are now paying for their own care. This is an increase of almost a third (28.5 per cent) in the last ten years (from 130,000 in 2005 to167,000 in 2014) and has happened as a result of the state funded system declining while demand has risen from our ageing population[i].
The new report from Age UK ‘Behind the headlines: ‘Stuck in the middle – self funders in care homes’ is based on actual calls to Age UK’s information and advice line and highlights the real challenges many face in getting a fair deal.
The decision to move into a care home is very difficult and often made in a rush following a spell in hospital. At such an emotional time scrutinising the fine print in a care home contract and negotiating rates is probably the last thing on anyone’s mind – but the terms set at this point will have a huge impact not only on an older person’s quality of life but also on their finances too.
Unfortunately calls to Age UK’s information line show just how powerless many older people and families feel when they are trying to arrange and manage care. The calls expose the problems people face navigating a complex market and the difficult position they can find themselves in when terms change suddenly or in ways that they don’t think are fair.
The report also reveals the extent to which ‘self-funders’ are ultimately paying the price for a care system under severe pressure. Care home providers have been increasingly financially squeezed, above all by big cuts in public funding for social care that in turn are forcing local authorities to drive down prices. As a result many care homes are struggling to balance the books and turning to self-funders to make up the shortfall to keep their homes open. Self-funders now on average pay between £603 and £827 a week depending on the area, compared to councils paying between £421 and £624 a week .
Self-funders are still largely unprotected when it comes to being able to remain in their care home as they have no security of tenure. In addition, there are no specific measures to ensure fair contracts in care homes and older people who pay for their own care do not enjoy the protection of the Human Rights Act, whereas those whose care is organised by the State do. As long as this is the case many residents and their families will understandably be reluctant to complain or to challenge apparently unfair actions by care homes, for fear of being asked to leave.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK’s said:
'More and more older people are paying their own care home fees and they are increasingly at risk of a raw deal because they are propping up a system that is seriously underfunded. They not only often face eye wateringly high weekly rates, calls to our helpline show that in some care homes they are being asked to pay even more through various extra charges as proprietors struggle to balance the books.
'Older people and their families deserve greater legal protection from care home contracts that are one-sided and extra charges that are over the top. It also seems incredibly unfair that a care home resident can be evicted if they or their family are seen to ‘rock the boat’ by complaining. Surely the time has come to give these vulnerable older people their proper legal rights.
'A big underlying problem is that our care system is financially terribly shaky. The cost of running a care home has risen but the money councils have to buy care has fallen: isn’t it inevitable in these circumstances that many providers will look to fill as much of the gap as they can from self-funders? And isn’t it equally unsurprising that so many care homes are going to the wall?
'Sadly we are seeing more and more rationing of social care and in this instance it looks like Peter is being robbed to pay Paul. It’s an awful situation for everyone, most of all for older people in need of a care home place and their families. The Government needs to grasp just how much of a crisis our care system is in and work with others, including Age UK, to address it.'