The concerns over long term care – and the devastating fall-out over who pays for it – has again hit the headlines.
For relatives of the 130,000 elderly people who enter care homes every year, the sums at stake can be quite considerable.
According to healthcare analysts Laing Buisson, residential care costs around £600 a week. It is readily acknowledged that it is more than that figure for people with dementia.
The Daily Mail has recently reported that 74-year-old leading theatre director Glen Watford had to go to court with Worcestershire County Council to stop the home where she had grown up from being sold to pay for her mother’s care home bills.
Under the headline ‘How 10,000 families are paying massive care home bills they don’t need to … and how to make sure it doesn’t happen to you’, the Mail painted a grave picture of the long term care process.
The report read: As a leading theatre director, 74-year-old Glen Walford has spent her long working life touring the world. But whenever she returned to Britain, she always knew she had a home — the pretty red-brick house in the Worcestershire countryside where she grew up.
Her childhood bedroom was still there, as well as her office and outbuildings filled with her belongings.
But when Miss Walford’s elderly mother, Mary, broke her hip in 2006 and had to go into a care home, the local council ruled that Miss Walford was only an infrequent visitor to the property — and therefore the house belonged exclusively to her mother, who would have to sell it to pay for her care fees.
When Miss Walford argued it was her home, too — a place she had recently spent some £40,000 doing up and where she intended to retire — the council even sent staff to snoop around the place. They reported that there were ‘no photos of family or friends’, and that it appeared ‘depersonalised’.
Thankfully, following a landmark ruling in the High Court, the decision by Worcestershire County Council was recently overturned. But the battle to keep her home has been a long and exhausting one for Miss Walford, who tearfully told the court of her ‘dear wish to be able to keep a much-loved house in the family’.
Recent figures show that care home fraud – families disposing of property and assets to claim state funding – has almost doubled in the past year, up 82 per cent to £4 million.
However, the Mail also reported that ‘families are not being informed about funding or exemptions they are entitled to – and as a result, experts believe, thousands of houses are being sold unnecessarily each year, and inheritances drained when they need not be’.
To add to this, said the Mail, ‘an estimated 100,000 families are unaware of some schemes that could save them a fortune in care home fees – a shocking situation’.
Analysts Laing Buisson also found that patients in the South-East – who pay closer to £1,000 a week for residential care – clock up a bill of nearly £100,000 over two years (the average time a person spends in care), compared with £73,000 in other parts of the country.
So what can those who might need care options for their loved ones do?
Well, they certainly they need to understand the rules surrounding care for the elderly. Who pays depends upon the financial circumstances of the individual needing care.
And if the local authority arranges the care home placement, then a financial assessment will be carried out, with both income and capital taken into account. Most forms of capital and savings are included in the assessment, including bank and building society accounts, National Savings, premium bonds, shares and property.
As things currently stand, anyone with property or capital worth £23,250 or more has to pay the full cost of their care.
The Mail reports that Peter Shaw, a retired teacher from Pickering in North Yorkshire, knows from first-hand experience what it’s like to sell the family home when you don’t have to:
When his mother Edna, a widow, broke her hip in 2006 at the age of 86, it quickly became clear that, following a lengthy stay in hospital, she would never be able to return to her home in Llansilin, Powys. She was unable to walk or stand, and her health deteriorated rapidly. She was also on numerous different medications that she was incapable of administering herself.
Mr Shaw found a place for his mother in a nursing home, at a cost of £2,500 a month. To pay for her care, Mrs Shaw’s family had no choice but immediately to sell her bungalow.
“It was a very difficult thing to do,” he says. “The house was an emotional anchor-point for the family; all the family treasures were there. We had to get rid of the pictures, the paintings, the clothes and the furniture, all in a rush. But what choice did we have? When you are faced with having to find a place for a loved one, your biggest priority is not financial but the safety and care of your mother. You don’t have time to consider what funding she may or not be eligible for.”
Mr Shaw says that at no point while Edna was in hospital was it ever suggested that the costs of her future care might be covered by the NHS — and it was only after she died, in August 2008, that Mr Shaw read about NHS Continuing Healthcare and the financial assistance it can offer.
After a lengthy legal fight, in March this year Mr Shaw finally received a payment of £44,000 from Powys Local Health Board to cover the amount he had paid when his mother was in the nursing home.
As part of the current assessment process, councils also have the power to investigate the way in which any capital or assets have been disposed of before going into care.
And the Mail report that councils ‘are taking increasingly aggressive steps to delve into personal finances. These include employing ‘avoidance inspectors’, who routinely demand to see everything, from tax returns to notes from meetings with financial advisers’.
The council are keen to stamp out any ‘deliberate deprivation of assets’ — whether it be signing over of a property to a relative or giving away large sums of money. Even blowing thousands on extravagant holidays could fall foul of these rules.
If someone transferred their house to a relative when they were fit and healthy, and had no plans to go into a home, then they are unlikely to fall foul of the law. Yet there’s a ‘but’….. if it can be shown to have been done with the intention of getting the council to pick up some or all of their future care costs, they can be treated as though they still have that capital.
The full Daily Mail report can be found here: