Know your rights in a care home
Care home providers have certain obligations they must fulfil. These responsibilities can be divided into two main areas:
- The rights of care home residents and their families are protected under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Consumer law states that care providers must treat residents fairly, act with reasonable care and skill when providing their service, and deal with complaints in an open and timely manner. You can read more about your consumer rights and protections in our guide to Care home contracts.
- Care providers must also follow specific regulations relating to safety and standards of care. These standards are monitored by the UK’s four independent care regulators, which also arrange regular inspections of care homes.
Look out for unfair terms
Before you decide to move into a care home, the care home company must ensure that you have received a copy of their standard contract or terms & conditions in advance. This should explain the type of care and accommodation you will receive, the fees and other charges, and other important terms, such as notice periods or cancellation policies. It should also be clear and easy to understand.
Terms in a contract should be fair. They should not put the consumer at an unfair disadvantage or give the care provider greater rights than the person who is paying for the care. Any contractual terms that are deemed to be unfair may not be legally enforceable.
A contract should not try to limit or take away a care home provider’s liability if it’s at fault when things go wrong – for example, if unsatisfactory care leads to injury or death of a resident, or damage to a resident’s possessions. Residents have a right to expect that they, and their possessions, will be looked after with reasonable care and skill. Pay particular attention to any clauses that contain the words ‘disclaimer’, ‘exclusions’ or ‘liability’.
Other potentially unfair terms include those that impose excessive fees or confusing charges. Read our guide to Care home contracts for more examples of unfair terms and how to spot them.
Consumer law guidance published by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) sets out the responsibilities that care homes must meet when providing their services.
What to do if there’s a problem before you’ve signed
If you have any doubts about a contract, do not sign. If you have a simple query about the terms of the contract, ask the care home provider to explain. They might be willing to amend a term if you’re not happy with it.
If you need help understanding the terms, or think something might be unfair, it’s best to get advice from a solicitor.
What to do if there’s a problem after you’ve signed
If a problem comes to light after you’ve signed the contract, and you think a term of the contract is unfair, you can challenge it. Remember that unfair terms are not legally binding so, whatever happens, don’t feel pressured into taking any action – such as paying any fees that you think are unreasonable, or moving out of the care home – until you have sought expert advice.
Get advice about your case
Consult a legal expert, who can take a closer look at the contract and advise on whether a term is unfair or not. They can recommend whether you should challenge the care provider by pursuing a complaint or by taking legal action.
You could also contact Solicitors for the elderly, an organisation of lawyers with specialist training and experience in dealing with legal issues for older and vulnerable people.
Which? Legal is a paid service from Which? that gives you access to a team of specialist legal advisers who can provide guidance on a range of legal questions.
You can report unfair terms to:
- your local Trading Standards department, which deals with the day-to-day enforcement of consumer law
- the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which deals with systemic market-wide consumer problems. Which? Consumer Rights offers a template letter to report unfair terms to the CMA.
Both organisations have the power to enforce consumer-protection laws and prevent businesses from acting unfairly.
Make a complaint
If it turns out that the term is not unfair, but you’re still unhappy with the level of service provided, you can make an official complaint to your care home provider. If you’re not satisfied with their response, you can take your case to the relevant ombudsman.
Our article on making a complaint about your care provider has more information on how to prepare for a complaint, as well as contact details about ombudsmen that cover care homes.
What to look for in a care home contract
For more information about what to look for in a care home contract, plus the important questions to ask before you sign it, read our guide to care home contracts:
We explain what should be in a good care home contract, who is involved and how to spot any potential problems.
Moving into a care home will be a big change. Read our tips on how to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Making a complaint about a care provider can be upsetting, but they should welcome your feedback and act upon it.