Care home operators are to be banned from forcing grieving families to pay accommodation charges for weeks after their relative dies.
Ministers have told firms they must remove the hidden fees – which can reach thousands of pounds – with the threat of legislation if they fail to ditch unscrupulous practices.
The Daily Mail has repeatedly highlighted the issue of families being fleeced by care home chains.
The warning that they must overhaul their contracts comes after the Government’s market regulator revealed that they may be breaking the law by failing to tell families they could have to pay so-called death fees for up to a month.
Caroline Dinenage MP, the care minister, said last night: ‘While there are lots of great businesses out there, far too many care home residents have been subject to hidden fees, and I am grateful to the Daily Mail for highlighting these issues.
Care home operators are to be banned from forcing grieving families to pay accommodation charges for weeks after their relative dies. File image used
‘The measures we announced will put the power back into the hands of residents and their families.
‘However, if improvements are not seen we won’t hesitate to change the law to strengthen protections so people can be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.’
The Department of Health and Social Care’s package of measures to improve consumer protections includes ensuring that contracts are fair, easily accessible and that residents and their families understand all of the terms.
In January, one major care home firm dropped death fees after the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which carried out a study into the industry’s sharp practices last year, threatened to take action.
Maria Mallaband Care Group, which runs 64 care homes, said in future it would charge for rooms only up to the date of death.
Miss Dinenage also wants to end the situation where some elderly and vulnerable residents are hit with up-front charges of up to £5,000 before they can even move in.
Last week a report by consumer watchdog Which? found that fewer than one in ten homes contacted on the premise of looking for care for an elderly relative were happy to send over their contracts in advance.
It said there was a danger that firms were breaking the law by neglecting to tell residents about expensive hidden terms and conditions.
‘IT’S GRAVE ROBBERY’ SAYS SON OF LATE DEMENTIA PATIENT
After struggling to care for his mother Elsie as she battled dementia, Mick Carr put her in Breton Court care home in Tenterden, Kent.
Mr Carr, 73, a retired printer from Ashford, Kent, said: ‘It was the worst day of my life. I cried my eyes out having done it. I didn’t go through the small print. I was in a lot of distress.’
After Mrs Carr died two years later, aged 98, her son and his family cleared her room the following day.
Pictured: Elsie Carr was put in a home as her dementia battle got more painful
He expected to be refunded the vast majority of that month’s £3,776 payment, but owners A Better Carehome kept £2,731, which included a 14-day notice period.
Mr Carr said: ‘To me it is grave robbery. I could understand paying for one or two extra days – but not 14.’
Breton Court care home declined to comment.
One person, who paid around £3,500 a month, told Which?: ‘After Dad’s death, I asked the home owner about the fees for that month and whether we would get any money back.
‘I was told that we would not, as the contract that we signed said that at whatever point in the month a resident dies, there will be no refund for the rest of that month.
‘Even though we were prepared to fully clear his room that day, we never received a penny back. Upset from just losing Dad, I was not in a fit state to challenge this.
‘I or Dad must have signed a contract for his admission into the home, though I don’t remember doing so as the time of crisis that had led to us finding him a place in a home he could afford was so stressful and we were so desperate.’
Another person told Which?: ‘They charged for the room at full rates for 30 days after someone dies. I had previously asked if there were any exit/vacation charges and had been told no.’
The Government is also considering introducing a kitemark accreditation scheme so families know if a residential care home has met the new standards and offers a fair and clear contract.
The CMA has previously warned that middle-class care home residents are being fleeced with over-the-top fees because town halls refuse to pay the market rate for poorer people’s care.