Paying the unfair price for home care

People have sold their houses so parents can be looked after, says Neasa MacErlean.

Imagine going through one of the worst experiences of your life and then being told that you have to sell your house as well. This is what happens to many families when their sole, remaining parent has to go into a residential or nursing home.

A Department of Health White Paper which could lead to an easing of these rules is due by 17 July when Parliament goes into recess, but experts say the Government might fudge the issue.

At the moment, the basic rule in England is that a person has to pay for residential care from any capital they have, including their home, above the £23,250 threshold.

While this rule is flexible and does not apply, for instance, if a partner (or certain other dependants) still lives in the property, it is widely seen as unfair.

Some experts say cash-strapped, local authorities are applying the rule more severely.

Private client lawyers at Pannone are being approached by more elderly people who are worried at the prospect of losing their house to pay for care.

"There have been substantially more cases in the last couple of years," said solicitor Helen Gaskell.

Stephen Lowe, policy adviser on care and support at the charity Age UK said: "The anecdotal evidence is that local authorities are being more aggressive in pursuing this issue."

He is referring to the "deliberate deprivation" rules through which an authority can argue that a person's home or other assets should be used to fund their care even if they have given the property to a child or someone else.For the argument to work, the authority has to prove that the asset was given away with the deliberate intention of avoiding paying for care.

But there is almost unanimous agreement that these rules are too harsh and go against a natural human desire among the elderly to leave something more substantial than £23,250 to their children.

Andrew Cozens, the strategic adviser on adult care to the Local Government Association, said: "It's such an opaque system. It hasn't got regard for the way the profile of people using care has changed. We still have a system based on the Poor Law."

The White Paper, which will come out a year after a government-commissioned report produced by the Dilnot Committee, recommended changes in the system which would raise the threshold from £23,250 to £100,000 and cap the total care cost exposure of each one of us to £35,000.

These proposals have received considerable support, including from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), representig the heads of care teams in local authorities.

However, as costs could amount to £1.7bn a year, the Government is expected to drag its heels over the issue. It is due to publish another document alongside the White Paper on the fundamental design of the social care system. But it would be no surprise to some experts if the Dilnot proposals are held over to be dealt with in the next three-yearly comprehensive spending review, due in 2015.

For the time being, thousands of families a year are dealing with these difficult issues. What typically happens is that a local authority refuses to pay care home fees when it discovers, in the course of the financial assessment it makes of each new resident, that a major asset, such as a house, has been given away.

If people do not get advice at this point they may just go along with what the authority says, not realising that, in some instances, they could have a strong defence.

The Relatives and Residents Association has seen several of these painful cases.

"It is quite difficult because they have to reimburse the local authority," says chair Judy Downey.

"Most people don't have the clout, energy and information to dispute it. The reluctance by local authorities to offer deferred payments is increasing significantly," she added.

In the most dramatic situations, families are forced to sell a home, even if its ownership has been transferred to a child, in order to pay care home fees.

Some councils appear to be becoming much less likely to use discretionary powers which would give families more flexibility over when such a property were sold or if it could be let out instead.

In reality, there seems to be a lot of variation between councils.

"The position taken by one local authority can vary very much from the local authority next door," said Simon Bottery of Independent Age.

John Jackson, a spokesman for ADASS and also the director for social and community services in Oxfordshire, said he has never come across a case of deliberate deprivation.

"People's concern about losing their house is absolutely the case," he said. "And they could lose almost the whole of value of it. But the issue is: would people do that planning ahead? People who are going into residential care are very, very frail. Many of them will have some form of dementia."

The Relatives Association, Independent Age and other organisations are all agreed that people should take advice.

Specialist lawyers in particular can be a great help in these situations. Pannone, for instance, never recommends that people give away their property completely, as they can be left helpless if they fall out with their children, their children get divorced or if something else unexpected happens (see case study).

Ms Gaskell recommends that people should be very careful about "one size fits all" plans which are being sold to elderly people to put their homes into a lifetime trust for their children.This means that the person no longer controls their home and it may also provide no protection against the deliberate deprivation rules if it was done to avoid paying for care fees.

She recommends that, if they go down this route, people should put the home into a trust while retaining the right to live there until they die.

Staffordshire is seen as a beacon of hope in the midst of this difficult and growing problem.

For more than two years it has been working hard to keep down the numbers of people who are going into homes by bolstering its home help care services.

It has reorganised itself into England's largest joint NHS and local authority trust in order to provide joined up medical and social care.

The trust works hard to alert people well in advance of the need to plan for the possibility of going into a home.

Councillor Matthew Ellis said: "This doesn't always mean getting rid of your home. If you are not in your home you can rent it out.

"It's just that it's not easy to organise that at the last minute."

Perhaps the Government could take a lesson from Staffordshire where flexibility, better co-ordination and planning have seen deliberate deprivation cases reduced to almost zero.

Case studies: 'Having to sell would be horrendous'

Jane has just retired after 50 years of working in the arts world and bringing up her children. She does not have much disposable cash but she does have a house that she dearly wants to leave to her children. "There is a real problem for people like me who have worked all their lives and haven't got that much," she says. "I have three kids who haven't got that much, and I'd like to leave the house to them. The thought of having to sell it to look after my long-term care is just horrendous."

Although she is in good health and nowhere near going into a home she is concerned by the issue. The mother of a close friend was recently forced to sell her home to pay for residential care, with the local authority involved imposing this solution on the friend who wanted to rent out the property and pay most of the fees that way.

"She was furious," says Jane. "I feel there could be more creative ways of managing this than the black and white way it's being done now."

In a case that Helen Gaskell became involved in towards the end, an elderly lady transferred her home over to her son. He unexpectedly died before her. Fortunately, he had left the house to his children, who got on very well with her. They could have insisted that she move out of the property as she no longer had any rights to it. Instead, they came to an agreement to vary the son's will, and the lady's rights to live there were restored.

LINKS

Age UK: http://www.ageuk.org.uk/ and helpline 0800 169 6565

Age UK leaflet on deliberate deprivation: http://www.ageuk.org.uk/Documents/EN-GB/Factsheets/FS40_deprivation_of_assets_in_the_means_test_for_care_home_ provision_fcs. pdf?dtrk=true

Department of Health: http://www.dh.gov.uk/health/category/policy-areas/social-care/

Department of Health booklet: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_133037

Independent Age: http://www.independentage.org/ and advice line 0845 262 1863

Relatives and Residents Association: http://www.relres.org/ and advice line 020 7359 8136

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Reach Volunteering: Trustee – PR& Marketing, Social Care, Commercial skills

    Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Age Concern Slough a...

    Reach Volunteering: Charity Treasurer

    Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Crossroads Care is s...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000: SThree: We consistently strive to be ...

    Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

    £50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

    Day In a Page

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin