Two highly revealing reports by the charity, Independent Age, have called into question the way local authorities are meeting their obligations to provide care and support to both elderly and vulnerable adults.
The first piece of research by the charity looked at the extent to which local authorities are providing access to information and advice under the Care Act 2014. The research found that some local authorities are not meeting the legal minimum standards set out in the Care Act for the information and advice they provide regarding care and support.
Whilst the majority are providing a minimum level of information and advice through their websites, more than two thirds (70 per cent) were not able to demonstrate that they had sufficient online information in all the areas required by the Care Act.
Only 45 councils out of 152 provided all the online information that is required by legislation, whilst over the phone:
- just over half of councils (52 per cent) gave a good response to the questions posed
- one in three (34 per cent) did not give a satisfactory answer to the caller’s enquiry
- one in twenty (5 per cent) gave only a partial response
Furthermore, in nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of cases, it was very difficult to find the relevant number to call on the council website, and in a significant minority of cases (9 per cent), the caller was not able to get through to the council at all.
In a separate piece of research, the same charity investigated the way local authorities provide top up fees to care homes. According to the charity, “the results are surprising and concerning, not least because of what they do not tell us”.
Six key findings emerged:
- Most councils are failing to properly record the number and level of top-up fees paid. Many top-up fee contracts are in fact negotiated without the knowledge of the council so no one knows the true extent of top-up fee payments in England.
- Since many top-up fee contracts are negotiated without the involvement of councils, they cannot fulfil their legal responsibility to ensure that relatives are ‘able and willing’ to pay them.
- Since councils are financially responsible for top-up arrangements – whether they are a party to them or not – many councils are unaware of their financial liability, a particular concern since most care homes in the survey reported at least one instance where a relative had struggled to pay a top-up fee.
- There are large variations between councils – and even within councils – in their approach to top-up fees, with some minimising their use and others regarding them as normal and routine. In some cases councils appear to have moved between these positions, causing concern and confusion to care homes.
- Few councils are signposting relatives to independent advice before they sign top-up fee contracts.
- There is a clear belief from care homes that the incidence of top-up fees is increasing because the rates that councils pay for care home places are simply too low.
Tim Steele, a partner in Palmers’ Older Client department who advises on long term care issues said: “Both reports are pretty damning in their findings. There appears to be a significant shortfall both in the way councils provide information to members of the public and the lack of consistency in the way they deal with care home top up fees.
“Relatives trying to make sense of their loved ones’ care fees, are clearly facing an uphill battle as the whole situation appears to be unreliable and lacks transparency.
“This underlines the value of seeking expert legal advice for those facing a need for long term care and their families. Advice obtained at an early stage can significantly reduce the amount paid by individuals for their care” For more information, please contact our Older Client team