Councils Drive Up Fees For Care At Home

Hundreds of thousands of elderly people are facing massive increases in the amount they pay for basic services such as washing and dressing which allow them to live independently in their own homes.

{mosimage}An exclusive survey for The Daily Telegraph has found some councils are raising fees by more than 100 per cent, while two councils in London, Brent and Lewisham, are trebling their charges for some.

The survey, by Public Finance Magazine, of 87 of England’s 150 councils found that older people face an average 29 per cent increase in home care fees this year. Eight councils are increasing fees by 100 per cent or more.

Almost a quarter of the remainder are planning rises of more than 40 per cent.

For the half-million pensioners who receive council care in the home, the rises represent a devastating financial and emotional blow.

Often a home care worker is the only form of human contact they have, and many elderly people worry they will have to raid their hard-earned savings to pay for it, ultimately being forced into a home or going without care.

David Walden, of the Government watchdog, the Commission for Social Care Inspection, said: “If charges are so high that people don’t access the services, that could have a deleterious effect on people’s health and we would be concerned about that.”

The rises are contained in the 2007-08 town hall budgets. Councils say the reason they are increasing fees is because the NHS financial crisis is hitting social services.

Hospitals have been ordered to cut costs to wipe out their £512 million deficit, and town hall chiefs accuse health trusts of trying to make council taxpayers foot the bill for services which should be provided by the Health Service.

For example cuts to nursing services mean some home helps are having to take on tasks such as changing dressings or checking insulin levels.

Campaigners say the council fee increases are morally wrong, financially short-sighted and their impact on older people “devastating”.

Today’s survey shows that the cost of 11 hours of help with washing, dressing and eating – a typical weekly “care package” – has risen to £133.21, or £6,660 a year.

The average weekly income for a pensioner household is £306. Retired men receive an average of £255 a week, retired females an average of £221. Last year the 11-hour care package cost £113.63, but in practice only a few paid that amount as means tests, which are set by individual councils, ensured people were left with some disposable income.

Now many councils are changing the way they conduct means tests and are stripping back their subsidies to the minimum.

Pauline Thompson, of Age Concern, said: “These are short-term cost-saving measures because some people will just be back later with even more pressing needs, maybe needing to go into a care home or hospital because of it.”