Council wins right to sell heirlooms to fund a father’s care

  • @emilydugan

A man has lost his battle to prevent family heirlooms, including a painting by Lucien Pissarro worth up to £30,000, from being seized to fund his father’s care.

The Court of Protection ruled yesterday that for several reasons, including the man’s own mental health problems, he could not care for his father at home. Essex County Council, the family’s local authority, will continue to act as deputies for his father and make up the shortfall in paying for his dementia care by selling off his assets.

The son, known only as RBS, lives in his father’s house and has been fighting Essex council for the last two years, hoping to bring him home again. He said his father was desperate to leave the care home and the council were mendaciously keeping him there and trying to auction off sentimental family possessions.

But the picture which emerged in court was drastically different. Evidence was given that the father had not expressed any desire to leave the care home and that Essex council had bent over backwards to work with his son, whose wish to “hold on to a life together” with his father was described by the judge as having an “all-too-human, Gatsby quality”.

The local authority allowed him to live rent-free in his father’s house and having spent an unspecified sum, thought to total almost £70,000 of his assets, which will now be deducted from his share of any inheritance. The elderly man’s daughter is also thought to have separately owed her father more than £22,000.

District Judge Anselm Eldergill ruled the council could sell the elderly man’s cottage and some of his possessions, including a 1906 Pissarro landscape called Stratford-upon-Avon Sunset, which is expected to fetch up to £30,000 at auction.

The son argued the painting was still of significant sentimental value to his father, but in the ruling Justice Eldergill said he had gone to meet the elderly man and asked him what “Pissarro” meant to him. He had replied it was the name of a local family and was a friend he met at school.

Justice Eldergill said: “In an ideal world, the Pissarro painting would be passed by father to son or daughter, and be a treasured keepsake...However, the regulations require that the cost of [his] care is paid for from his own assets and it is no longer possible to keep the painting.”

In a written statement to the court, the son said: “I fought for what I believed father wanted and now sadly, for my own sanity, I have lost all hope of his returning to his own home. It is with deep regret that I have bailed out and feel I have let my father down.” He added: “I wish all parties interested in proceedings to be aware that my actions were borne out of love and care for my dear father and for no other reasons.”

The case was first made public after The Independent successfully led a group of news organisations to seek media access. It addresses the difficulties faced by increasing numbers of councils and families across Britain, where possessions have to be sold off to pay for the care of those who are incapacitated.

Justice Eldergill ruled Essex County Council should be named in the press, and said “they could not have been more compassionate” in the way they dealt with the son’s difficulties and the situation. The exact costs of the case are not yet known, but they will be deducted from the father’s estate.