Son faces eviction to pay for his mother's care

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A 51-YEAR-OLD man stands to lose his home because a local authority wants to use it to pay for his mother's nursing home care.

His case is believed to be the first of its kind and may set a precedent that would affect thousands of other people who share their homes with elderly relatives.

Each month the value of David Harcombe's home in Watchet, Somerset, is being eroded by pounds 500 after Somerset County Council lodged a legal charge against the deeds for the costs of looking after his 83-year-old mother, Faith. She is already paying pounds 700 a month towards the cost of her care.

The charge against the house now totals pounds 9,000 and, as things stand, the pounds 60,000 house, which is in his mother's name, will have to be sold off immediately she dies. The family's lawyer said he knew of no other case of this kind, involving a house occupied by a close relative and heir.

Mr Harcombe is challenging the charges by seeking a judicial review.

For some time councils have been putting charges on homes which become empty after an elderly person has been taken into care. The new move by Somerset has caused alarm.

"Local authorities do have a relatively generous discretion not to make this kind of charge," said Ben Furner of Age Concern. "Sadly, I think we are going to see this sort of thing more and more because local councils don't have any choice because they don't have the funding."

David Harcombe was in Australia when his mother become ill. He said: "I gave up everything in Australia and came back to live here. She had gone into a residential home in April 1991. I came back in August and arranged for her to come home. In 1993, she had another stroke and has been in a nursing home since May 1994." He added: "This is my only home and we would have to sell it at my mother's demise to pay the debt."

His solicitor, Mark Routley,said: "The council charge will increase at pounds 500 a month until she dies, when the house will have to be sold. If it is not sold, interest will accrue so, in practical terms, it would have to be sold, although it is Mr Harcombe's home and it is his mother's intention that she wants to pass it on.

"Councils usually disregard the houses when someone is living there and I know of no other case like this. We asked them to disregard it but they declined. There are guidelines which say that it may be reasonable to disregard property where someone gives up home to care for someone else."

A spokesman for Somerset County Council said: "There is a discretion in these cases. The lady has been receiving care and the bill has been attached to her asset which is the house. We are quite satisfied that what we have done, we have done properly and in accordance with the law."