Son fights for right to keep home

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The Independent Online
In what may prove a landmark case for the families of those in care, a Somerset man will go to the High Court tomorrow to challenge his local authority's right to place a charge against the house he shared with his mother to pay for her nursing home.

Every month, Somerset County Council places a pounds 500 charge on the house in Watchet to cover the costs of care for 83-year old Faith Harcombe. The total charge now stands at around pounds 16,500. Mrs Harcombe is also paying pounds 700 a month from her own resources which include her late husband's Church of England pension.

The judicial review in London tomorrow is regarded by the lawyers acting for 51-year-old David Harcombe as groundbreaking. "We believe it will set a precedent for the many other people in the same position as the Harcombes," said his solicitor, Mark Routley.

The case revolves around the discretionary powers that councils have in recovering charges for non-NHS care, particularly where the house is lived in by another member of the family.

Mrs Harcombe became ill in 1991 and went into a residential home. Her son returned from Australia and arranged for her to return to the family home in Watchet with him. Two years later she had a series of strokes and was taken into hospital. While she was there, her son returned to Australia to sort out affairs and found that he would have to give up his job as a social worker because he had been away so long. He returned home and his mother was in a nursing home.

"The council are effectively saying that the house is not his home because he went back to Australia for a few weeks, even though he regards it as his only home," says Mr Routley. "He had given up a home of his own and his job to look after his mother and now he is being penalised.

"His mother also wants to be able to leave the house to her children but when Mrs Harcombe dies the house will have to be sold to pay off the bills."

"It seems very unfair." Mr Harcombe said. "This is my home, yet it is being taken away from us little by little. My parents thought they were paying for their care in old age all their lives, now my mother is having to pay twice."

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