The government has finally responded to the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) care home market study, accepting that consumers needed better protection from ‘unfair practices’ by care homes.
It has promised ‘immediate action’ to improve consumer protections in the sector and to seek changes in the law if improvements don’t happen.
It has also accepted that there is ‘unacceptable variation’ in care home availability locally, and that planning is needed to ensure there will be enough places for the future. This could include changes to the law.
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Care home unfair contracts
Which? has been investigating care home practices as part of a push for government action, and has highlighted a number of cases to the CMA. These have involved potentially unfair contracts, additional fees and evictions, all affecting hundreds of care home residents and their families.
Stories we’ve been told have included:
- Care homes potentially breaching consumer protection laws by including unfair terms
- Care homes charging bereaved families fees for a month after the death of a loved one
- Care homes terminating contracts with just 24-hours notice for undefined ‘detrimental behaviour’, something they are currently legally allowed to do.
One member, Pam, shares her experience with the care home system: ‘My frail 91-year-old mother was evicted after eight years in residence, at a cost of more than £160k. She died two weeks later – we believe due to the stress of the move.
‘The care home owners had wanted me to pay fees for periods I had already paid, and when I complained about the staffing levels of one man in the building to attend to the needs of more than 20 residents they gave my mother notice to leave.
After my mother’s death, I proved and they agreed that I did not owe the thousands of pounds they were demanding on threat of eviction.’
Care home beds postcode lottery
Which? research has also revealed that in England, half of care homes are failing residents.
In six local authority areas, good quality care home places are so limited that 50% or more of local beds are in homes rated as requiring improvement or inadequate by the regulator (Care Quality Commission).
This makes it far less likely that people looking to move into a care home will able to find a good one close to home.
In addition, previous Which? research from 2017 has shown that almost nine in ten council areas across England could see a shortfall in care home places by 2022.
Care system for the future
The government has said it will use the forthcoming Green Paper on social care – a report created as a springboard for discussion – to ensure an improved social care system that works for everybody. This includes:
- Delivering enough capacity for the people who need it
- Fair practices, such as transparent contracts, for the most vulnerable.
Alex Hayman, Which? managing director of public markets, said:
‘Meaningful action to protect people from these poor practices is long overdue and must not be further delayed until the government’s Green Paper.
‘The government is right to acknowledge that a change in the law may be needed to protect often vulnerable residents and their relatives.
‘Ministers must step in to tackle these unscrupulous practices before addressing the fundamental reforms needed to fix the broken social care system in their Green Paper.’