Massive rise in care charges for elderly

Tens of thousands of pensioners have been hit by huge hikes in fees for care they receive at home, an investigation has revealed.
Fees for elderly people receiving help with tasks like washing, dressing and eating have risen by an average of 45 per cent since 2007, with councils using stealth tactics to disguise the steepest increases.

In Bath and North East Somerset, the bill for a pensioner receiving three hours of care a day has risen 370 per cent, from £65 a week three years ago to £303 this year.

In Gateshead the weekly cost rose more than threefold to £378 over the same period.

The research also revealed a postcode lottery in fees for home care.

The highest weekly charge was in Surrey, at £440, while two London councils, Newham and Tower Hamlets, made no charge at all.

Charities for the elderly said the findings exposed an “unfair and crumbling” system which is failing tens of thousands of families.

They urged the Government to launch a radical overhaul of the charges when it publishes its Green Paper on long-term care, which is expected to be published within a week.

Stephen Burke, chief executive of charity Counsel and Care said: “For home-care charges to rise by 45 per cent is simply unacceptable.

“At a time when older people are at their most vulnerable, central and local government need to be much braver and begin to find solutions to this crisis of funding.”

More than 400,000 elderly and disabled people in the UK receive care in their own home which is provided by councils or by private agencies.

Most councils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will not pay for care for people with savings of more than £23,000 except in special circumstances.

People with savings between £14,000 and £23,000, or with an income of more than £8,450 a year, pay some of the costs. In Scotland, home care is free.

The Sunday Telegraph looked at the charges imposed by 100 of the 150 councils in England which provide social services.

The basic hourly rate increased by an average of 31 per cent between 2006/7 and this financial year. But half of councils managed to recoup even more money by raising the maximum weekly charge after which they pick up the tab.

On average, cap levels – designed to protect those with the largest payments – increased by 56 per cent over the period.

Pensioners in Brighton and Hove pay an hourly rate of £20 for care, which is not subsidised until spending reaches £850 a week. In Barnsley, in West Yorkshire, by contrast, the £5 hourly rate is capped at £60 a week.

To make a fair comparison between councils, this paper examined the impact of the changes in their rules on a typical pensioner, receiving three hours care a day.

The average weekly cost for such a pensioner rose to £254, from £175 in 2006/7. In total, 17 councils more than doubled their charges.

The figures showed how quickly pensioners’ savings would be exhausted in different areas.

Savings of £50,000 would be drained to £23,000 in just 14 months in Brighton and Surrey. In Barnsley, West Yorkshire it would take more than eight years.

Imelda Redmond, chief executive of charity Carers UK, said the research confirmed their worst suspicions.

“These results are very revealing – the figures are shocking, but they show something we have been suspected but until now been unable to prove,” she said.

“I think this is the first time we have been able to see the impact of changes which have been made in so many ways, without transparency.

“The system is incredibly unfair, and these findings expose this. We want the Government to introduce fairness and transparency when it publishes its Green Paper on long-term care next month”.

Neil Coyle, from the Coalition on Charging, a pressure group backed by leading charities, which campaigns against the current system of fees, said the impact of such costs on the most vulnerable people was “horrendous”.

He said charges meant many people stopped using the home help services because they could not afford it, forcing them to sacrifice their dignity or rely heavily on relatives who struggled to cope.

He said: “Others cut back on food and heating, the group’s research found.”

Stephen O’Brien, the Shadow Minister for health, accused the Government of “piling unfunded burdens on local authorities” while failing to keep its 1997 promise to reform the social care system.

He said: “Ministers must bear the responsibility for these significant rises.”

Michelle Mitchell, charity director for Age Concern and Help the Aged, said the investigation demonstrated that the current care system was “crumbling,” making it harder and more costly for older people to get help.

Too many councils were stripping away the dignity and independence of elderly people who relied on them for support, she said.

The charities are calling for immediate investment of at least £1 billion to prop up the current system, while reforms are discussed.

The Green Paper is expected to set out options to change the means-tested system of care for adults receiving care in residential homes, or in their own homes, including a proposal for a new tax, to be paid on retirement, or from death duties, in return for free care in old age.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said the Government had issued guidance to encourage councils to take a consistent approach to charges for home care.

He added: “We recognise that the current system of care needs radical reform and we will soon publish a green paper with options of how we could do this.

“We want to hear people’s views on how we deliver and fund a system for the future.”