Which? Money research has found that care homes are demanding payment for up to four weeks after a resident has died, leaving grieving relatives facing a hefty bill for care that is no longer being given.
We've found huge discrepancies in 'notice periods' - how much notice you have to give before vacating a room - between the country's largest care home providers. In the event of a loved one's death in a home, of course, there's no way of knowing when to give notice.
As the average cost of care in the UK reaches £600 per week for residential care, and £841 per week for nursing care, this means that residents in the worst offending homes face bills of thousands of pounds.
Maria, 52, from Torbay, was shocked to find that when her mother died at Mount Olivet Nursing Home at the beginning of February, she was charged for the rest of the month.
'After paying a massive monthly fee, including for meals which she hardly ate, and grieving from the death of my mum, having to pay for the days when she wasn't at the premises is absolutely disgraceful', Maria said. 'I had to collect her items as soon as possible.'
Mount Olivet - owned by GrayAreas Ltd - was rated 'good' in its most recent inspection report.
We contacted Mount Olivet for comment but it didn't respond in time. But it wasn't the only home we found with a four-week notice period.
Care home contracts are notoriously hard to obtain, and the language used can make them hard for residents to understand.
We found one for Kimberley West Care Centre, in Salisbury, which says: 'In the event of death, fees will be charged for a maximum of 28 days from the day after death or until the vacancy has been re-occupied, which ever is the earliest.
'Any outstanding fees for residents will be charged to their estate, or appointed representative.'
The care home is in control of finding a new resident for the room - if it doesn't, you could pay for a full additional 28 days.
Another contract, for Woodlands Quaker Home in Wolverhampton, says that the the resident must 'give the Company a minimum of four weeks notice in writing when the resident or their representative or executor wishes to end the licence or such other period of notice as is agreed between the parties.'
Which? wants to see an end to unfair terms and conditions that are being imposed on elderly people and their families by some care homes, which is why we're asking the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to take action.
|Care home provider||Number of homes||Notice period|
|Bupa||278||2 weeks (long-term), 3 days (short-term)|
|HC-One Ltd||230||1 week|
|Anchor Care Homes||120||1 week|
|Care UK||110||2 weeks|
|Methodist Homes||85||Until cleared|
*Four Seasons, Barchester, Orchard, Runwood and Maria Mallaband & Countrywide did not respond before our deadline
We asked the UK's 10 largest care home providers how long their notice periods are, and found big discrepancies in the five who responded.
While none said they required four weeks' notice, Bupa Care Homes, the largest operator, ask for two weeks' notice for long-term care patients and three days for short-term care.
A spokesperson for Bupa, which is responsible for more than 20,000 beds across 278 homes, said: 'We do this to give families and next of kin time to collect their relatives belongings.'
Care UK also require two weeks' notice, but say they take individual circumstances into consideration.
'The amount charged broadly covers all reasonable costs associated with the end of a residency and ensures that relatives have sufficient time to collect their loved one's personal belongings, without the additional stress that could be caused by an immediate end to their contract, they said.
HC-One and Anchor Care Homes both require a week's notice, and Methodist Homes only charge until the room is cleared.