Residential care providers are taking legal action against Essex County Council following claims that the low fees they are paid to deliver adult residential care services are “unsustainable.”
Care England, which represents adult care providers, says it is “deeply concerned” about the state of the care home market in Essex and has now launched judicial review proceedings against the County Council.
Sean Watson, a director of St Michael Homes Ltd in Brentwood, explained how Essex County Council currently pay £483 per resident, compared with private residents who pay £650 a week.
In an interview with the BBC, Sean said: “Lots of care homes who depend on council-funded residents are closing down or providing a poor service and you can’t really blame them because they haven’t got funding to back them.
“This was a growing issue in the early 1990s, but it’s much worse now with increasing demand on services for the elderly and rates the council pays us not going up for years or increasing in line with inflation.”
Sean warned that the situation had become so critical that care homes might eventually have no option but to stop taking council-funded residents.
“Care homes can’t sustain the low fees with all the increases in wages and the Care Quality Commission demanding ever more of the service with no increase in fees,” he said.
Care England confirmed that the judicial review seeks to “challenge the lawfulness of the council’s fee setting decision”, saying that it believes the council’s actions to date are “a breach of its responsibilities under the Care Act 2014”.
A spokesperson for Essex County Council explained that they were unable to comment on the specifics of the case due to ongoing legal proceedings, but stated that that the local authority took its obligations under the Care Act 2014 “extremely seriously”.
Lee McClellan, a partner with Palmers who advises on long-term care issues, said: “The care sector has for some time been warning that significant funding issues are leading to some residential homes reaching breaking point; where they are no longer able to provide an acceptable level of service whilst maintaining a sustainable business.
“This funding crisis is worrying news for many elderly people and their families and with an ever increasing elderly population, the issue of funding shortfalls needs to be tackled head on.
“The rules regarding when state assistance is available to meet the costs of a person’s care are complex and confusing and can result in people paying more for their care than should properly be required of them.
“In addition to causing financial issues for care home owners and lowering the standard of care on offer, the low rates paid by local authorities can result in family members improperly being asked to pay ‘third party top ups’ from their own funds, to meet additional care costs, where there is no care home willing and able to provide accommodation within the local authority’s standard rate.
Lee added: “These issues and the strain on the social care system as a whole underline the value of seeking expert legal advice to ensure that care is made available to those who need it, and that state funding is provided, in accordance with the relevant rules and regulations. Anyone who is concerned that they or a family member are paying more for their care than should be the case, should contact our Older Client team for advice.”
For help and support on legal issues relating to adult care provision, please contact us.