Recent reports suggest that many families of elderly people in residential care are paying over and above what they should to top up the fees charged by the care home.
Advice and information service Independent Age recently published a report titled ‘Care home top up fees: the secret subsidy’. It revealed that many of the 56,000 families paying top up fees to care homes were doing so without realising that it was optional. Even more shocking is the claim that certain councils are pressuring families into paying top ups fees by saying that these are required for all levels of care.
Top up fees explained
If you’re unfamiliar with what top up fees are (as it seems a great many people are) let me explain. Top up fees are designed to allow families to pay extra money to the care home where their relative resides in order to gain a better standard of living. This will generally improve the quarters they’re assigned, rather than the level of care by staff (which should be the same regardless). The target audience for this facility is those residents that have their standard care home costs paid for by their council.
Top up fees are entirely optional. All councils have a legal obligation to make this very clear. They also must ensure that those paying top up fees are ‘willing and able’ to pay. Thus, by implying that these fees are required, the council is in fact breaking the law.
Confusion in the system
The report revealed that there’s widespread confusion over who is responsible for monitoring top up fees, not least among council workers. Often families aren’t given adequate guidance on top up fees by their council. In some cases there is no correspondence between the council and the family so that families deal directly with the care homes. This is against proper procedure. It appears that councils are denying responsibility despite their legal liability to handle the process. What’s more 36 councils (of a total 129 that responded to Independent Age’s survey) have no stored data about top up fees and 57 councils hold only partial data on it further emphasising their rejection of responsibility.
What to do if you’re being pressured into paying top up fees
Nobody should feel legally or morally obligated to pay top up fees and they certainly shouldn’t be under pressure to do so by their council. As the law says you must be ‘able’ to pay, i.e. in a financial position to pay these fees if you wish to.
If it happens that there are no care homes in your area that fall within the ‘standard’ level that the council usually pay for that doesn’t mean you’re required to pay the difference. In fact it’s still the council that are obliged to pay. This is because there is no alternative so it’s not a choice made by the family.
Any council that allows families to pay top up fees without assessing their ability to pay those fees is also in breach of the law. Top up fees shouldn’t result in debt or worry for any family.
If you feel you’re being pressured into paying or have been in the past you should be able to reclaim that money. Advocacy services like Cheselden in Cheshire will be able to offer advice and assistant in dealing with your council or care home. My advice is to visit Cheselden today to discuss your options fully.