Thousands of families are having to pay expensive ‘top ups’ for their relatives’ care home stay – even though they were told they would be getting it free.
An investigation has found that a quarter of those told their care would be free are having to pay stealth charges that can run into thousands of pounds.
Age UK said its research had found that 48,400 older people in care homes are paying the charges, which can exceed £100 a week.
This is despite the fact they have already met the tough conditions for their costs to be paid entirely by their local council.
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, said the charges were ‘stealth taxes’ on families, many of whom were being put in ‘horrible situations’. Pictured: A stock image of an elderly man being cared for in a home
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, said the charges were ‘stealth taxes’ on families, many of whom were being put in ‘horrible situations’.
The investigation found that older people are being welcomed into care homes – but just weeks later are being told they have to pay top-ups of up to £160. Town halls are then telling families they will have ‘pay the top up or move out’.
In some cases, hospital discharges are being held up by requirements for top-ups that families cannot afford – adding to the problem ad NHS bedblocking.
And Age UK has found examples of care homes improperly demanding top ups direct from families.
The scandal underlines the crisis in England’s broken care system, which is struggling to fund increasing demand from an ageing population.
Ms Abrahams said: ‘Over the last year we took over 250 calls from worried families complaining about demands for extra fees, when their loved one’s care home place was supposed to be paid for in full by the local council.
‘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.
The investigation found that older people are being welcomed into care homes – but just weeks later are being told they have to pay top-ups of up to £160
‘Older people and their families should make sure they understand their legal rights if they are asked for a “top up” as it is sometimes possible to challenge these demands. Age UK has a lot of free information available via our advice line and website.
‘In today’s cash-strapped care system we fear that third-party top ups are increasingly a form of stealth tax on families, unfairly exploiting their desire to do right by their loved ones if they need to move into a care home. This is hugely unfair and it’s yet another reason why the government must live up to its commitment to consult on new proposals on social care, later this year.’
The law says that ‘top ups’ should only be paid voluntarily – and with their informed consent – by families to pay for a home closer to relatives or extra facilities such as a nicer room.
It makes it clear that older people have the right to be offered at least one residential placement which is available and affordable within the funding the council has allocated to them; that is without the need for any topping up by a third party.
But Age UK said relatives were increasingly being asked to pay a ‘top up’, often because there is no local care home place available that the council has enough money to pay for.
The charity said it believed the third party top ups regime is too often being abused.
Age UK said it is often a difficult and upsetting time when an older person needs to move into a care home – but that this was being made even worse by demands for top-up fees that come as a nasty surprise.