Age Concern said it was forced to take such drastic steps because of inflexible government rules prohibiting state support for the patient.
It is the first time Age Concern has taken High Court proceedings against a nursing home resident; and is thought to be the first time a charity has taken out a writ in such circumstances.
The test case comes in the wake of growing concern about the number of elderly people in homes who rely on relatives to pay the escalating cost of their care. Many relatives cannot afford to do so; others refuse. If an elderly person entered a home before 1993, and has assets of more than pounds 8,000, he or she cannot receive state support for the cost of nursing.
Ellen Fowles, who is in her eighties, suffers from advanced Alzheimer's disease and is unaware of her surroundings. She has been a resident in a nursing home run by Age Concern in south London since January 1993, after being sent there on her doctor's advice. She is ineligible for income support and state subsidy because she owns a house in the area; her daughter and four children now live there.
The home charges pounds 315 a week, and patients pay extra for clothes and personal hygiene. The charity is suing her for pounds 22,680 with interest of pounds 1,284.92, accrued for non- payment at a rate of pounds 4.97 a day. Age Concern has already made provision for Mrs Fowles's pension to be paid direct to it in order to marginally reduce the debt.
It is understood that her daughter has refused to acknowledge invoices for the amount, and that despite repeated visits and telephone calls, has not paid.
Eileen McNally, director of the Age Concern group which runs the home, said last night: 'I feel dreadful. I didn't join Age Concern to start threatening people over money. I had no other choice. But it seems to me something of a disgrace that in hospital people get free attention, and yet in voluntary or private- sector care they face huge bills. But there is nothing more I can do.'
The charity is aiming to gain possession of Mrs Fowles's house in settlement of her outstanding account. If that fails, the charity may be forced to evict her. After the community care changes of April 1993, local authorities took control of subsidising the elderly in homes and have discretion not to seize assets, in particular houses, if they are lived in by relatives. Those who went into homes before April 1993 are subject to central government rules which force the seizure of assets in lieu of unpaid fees.
Age Concern said that Mrs Fowles's case highlighted a problem faced by many elderly people who need nursing assistance, and their relatives.
'There are relatives who may have cared for five or six years, then they put their relative into a home - because they have to - only to find that they have to sell their house so that the relative can qualify for income support and their fees will be paid,' a spokesman for the national organisation said.
Age Concern runs 9 homes and Help the Aged 15, but most of Britain's 10,000 residential homes are run by private companies. Costs of care have soared in the past five years - by 58 per cent according to one estimate.Reuse content