Elderly Forced To Sell Homes To Pay Care Costs

Families and patients face a postcode lottery when it comes to selling their homes to pay for care home costs, new research has revealed.

Patients in some parts of the country are being forced to sell their homes to receive residential care, as councils neglect to use discretionary powers which would prevent such sales, it has been found.

Almost 50 per cent of councils opted not to use these special powers in the past financial year – meaning families had to sell up – a series of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to local authorities showed today.

Despite these findings, the government says it has worked hard to encourage councils to ensure that no one in England would be forced to sell their homes, including £85m in grants to local authorities.

Assets and income, including a person’s home, are taken into account when councils decide how much someone should pay towards the cost of a care home.

When working out a person’s wealth, authorities automatically exclude the value of their home from calculations if it is still lived in by close relatives.

If the property is not still lived in by close relatives, Department of Health guidelines show that local authorities can use “discretion to disregard” the value of a resident’s home if it continues to be the residence of a “former carer or other type of person”.

But today’s figures show that last year 46 per cent of councils did not use these powers at all, causing variations across the country in how much patients and their families had to pay for long term care.

The rate of use of these powers per 100 admissions varied from 0.2 times to 15.6 times.

Under similar laws, which allow councils the ability to defer sale of the house until the cared-for person has died, the figures also show that one in five authorities did not use this power in the past year either. The rate of use per 100 admissions varied from 0.2 times to 40.9 times.

For example, in North Somerset the council did not use its discretionary powers once last year, compared with Cheshire which ignored the house values in 152 cases, and Lincolnshire which deferred payments 318 times.

Tory Shadow Health Minister Stephen O’Brien, whose party put in the FoI requests, said: “It is extremely worrying that such a radically different approach is being taken on whether a patient should sell their home to fund their own care based on nothing more than their postcode.”

Care Services Minister Phil Hope said: “It is a matter for each local council to decide whether to introduce the deferred payment scheme in their area.

“We are committed to reforming the care and support system in England. The care and support Green Paper, to be published in spring this year, will propose a range of options including looking at the issue of how people use assets to pay for care.”

Lisa Morgan, a solicitor with Hugh James Solicitors, based in Cardiff, said lots of people that approached her firm had incorrectly been forced to pay expensive care fees.

She said: “We work for about 750 clients throughout England and Wales, and people are coming to us because they feel that their parents are so ill that they shouldn’t be paying for their care and ask us to investigate.

Actually we found they shouldn’t have sold their homes, and they shouldn’t have been paying out thousands of pounds in care fees.”

FoI requests were placed with all 150 English councils which provide social services.

They were asked: “‘In how many cases in the 2007-08 financial year did your local authority use discretion to disregard the value of a person’s home when deciding on the charge they should pay for their residential care?’; and “In how many cases in the 2007-08 did your local authority use discretion to agree a deferred payment arrangement for a person going into residential care whereby a charge against the value of their property is not collected until the end of the contract?”

Above are the ten councils which oversaw the most admissions to residential homes without once using the “discretion to disregard” powers. A total of 24 councils were unable to provide responses to these questions.