Beware the small print in care home contracts!
Want to avoid unexpected bills? If you or a loved one are contemplating moving into a care home in the near future, a new report highlights the need to check out the terms before signing. By Tony Watts OBE.
If the care home sector was not already having a difficult time in the media recently, a new report has just been published by the charity Citizens Advice which says that as many as one in five of the 300,000 elderly people living in care homes have been hit with out of-the-blue bills for hidden extras – some amounting up to several thousand pounds for a management fee and as much as £1000 for a telephone charge.
All of those surveyed by Citizens Advice were self-funders, so already paying upwards of £30,000 a year in care home fees.
The root of the problem, says the charity, is a lack of basic consumer protection for care home residents, and highlights the need for anyone placing a loved one in care to be vigilant about the small print on the contract.
The problem for many, however, is that the decision to move into a care home is often made in a hurry – often after a person has had a fall or been discharged from hospital.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, says: “Brochures and price lists for care homes can be hard to decipher, especially if the circumstances mean people don’t have the time to do extensive reading and research.
“This means many are in the dark about exactly how much they could be charged for things such as management fees or additional services, like treatments and care assistance.
“But moving to another care home is often not an option because it is too disruptive or distressing for the resident. This leaves people with little choice but to pay these unexpected costs.”
Earlier this year, Citizens Advice published a report warning that many homes were raising fees at very short notice. Nearly one in ten (eight per cent) care homes only give a week’s notice, while two thirds of care homes offer four weeks notice or less for fee increases. Less than one in five (18 per cent) offer a year’s notice, showing that it is possible to provide plenty of warning on fee increases – but the majority of care homes were failing to do so.
Bearing in mind that care home fees in England rose on average by £900 last year, budgeting for such an increase can be hugely important for residents and their families. In the East of England, residential care home fees rose on average by £2,184 – an average increase of 6.8 per cent.
That report also pointed out that many care homes do not pass on savings when a resident is away for an extended period, such as a stay in hospital.
One way to avoid unexpected charges is to research the terms offered by local homes well in advance of making a move into a care home.
Essential to everyone planning their future will be a detailed knowledge of just how much they need to fund their retirement. The answer is now available through a unique online retirement planning dashboard RetireEasy.co.uk, which allows you to feed in your income, outgoings and savings and map out a host of different future scenarios.
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