Care home residents risk being trapped by cash rule: Government puts limit on accommodation benefit

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The Independent Online
THE Government will stop paying its pounds 45-a-week share for accommodating elderly and mentally ill and handicapped people in nursing and residential care homes if residents go on holiday or into hospital for more than six days.

The ruling has thrown into disarray the projected finances and care plans of private home owners and social services departments throughout the country in the run-up to the introduction of a new community care policy on 1 April.

It could leave thousands of residents trapped in homes, unable to take holidays. Or if they went into hospital, they would be uncertain whether they would have a bed to return to.

Under the present system the Department of Social Security continues paying towards the cost of accommodation for up to six weeks while the resident is on holiday or in hospital. Owners of private homes thought that after April the allowance of pounds 45 a week, or pounds 50 in London, would be paid for up to 13 weeks if the resident was away. But they discovered this week that the DSS will stop paying the residential allowance to social services departments if the resident is absent for longer than six days. The local authority or the home will have to pay for the bed.

A DSS spokeswoman said it was up to the local authority to reach an agreement with the nursing home on what proportion the council would pay while the resident was away. The council might decide not to pay. The home could let the bed go to someone else and the local authority could find the resident a bed in another home, she said.

The DSS decision was discovered in a 'statutory instrument' on social security and housing for community care lodged in the House of Commons library in December. The National Care Homes Association, which unearthed the document, protested to MPs at a private reception attended by Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security, on Tuesday night.

Eunice Paxman, its chairwoman, said: 'This could have a very serious effect on the security of tenure of the resident or patient. No authority or home owner is likely to be prepared to shoulder this additional financial burden for long. We intend to make strenuous representations to the DSS.'