Lincolnshire County Council is failing in its legal responsibility to give advice and support to families of the poorest care home residents, says a new report by Independent Age.
The council is failing to check that the relatives are ‘able and willing’ to make so-called care home ‘top-up payments’, which are paid by some relatives to improve the quality of council-funded care.
Under a Freedom of Information Act request, Lincolnshire County Council admitted that it has only partial information about which families are making these payments and so cannot possibly have carried out checks to make sure that they need to pay them, says the charity.
Independent Age says it receives one call every working day from relatives concerned about top-up fees – which can amount to several hundred pounds a week.
The information comes in a new report by Independent Age, Care home top-up fees: the secret subsidy, which is based on Freedom of Information requests to all 152 English councils. It has found that most councils do not carry out these checks properly.
The report also voices the concerns of care homes that top-up payments are being paid by relatives not for a higher quality of care but because the care home fees paid by councils are too low.
Independent Age has rated each of the 129 councils that responded to the Freedom of Information request as either ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘ugly’ depending on whether, according to their evidence, they are following their legal obligations in their overall monitoring of top-up fees.
In total, the report found that three quarters (72%) of councils did not know about all top-up fee payments in their area – and so cannot have made sure that all relatives were ‘able and willing’ to pay them as they are legally required to do.
Only 36 councils – the ‘good’ councils according to the report – said they knew about all top up fee contracts in their area but 36 – the ‘bad’ ones - said they had no information at all. 57 – the ‘ugly’ councils – had only incomplete information.
Independent Age chief executive, Janet Morrison says, “This report demonstrates a real concern that top-up fees are becoming a ‘secret subsidy’ by which some underfunded councils limit the amount they spend on care. But because so many councils are not keeping records of the payments, no one can be sure about the true level of top-up fees – or whether they are really voluntary. Many families are being let down by councils because they are given no information, no support – and no choice.”
Martin Green, Chief Executive of the English Community Care Association, which conducted a survey of care homes in England for the report, said: “This is an extremely comprehensive and helpful reminder of the need for councils to be better aware of their responsibilities around ‘top-ups’. It demonstrates yet again the concern around inadequate fees paid by councils to care homes. We urge that the report’s recommendations are closely studied by all parties and addressed, in order to ensure the law is followed and individuals receive consistent and high quality advice on their rights and responsibilities regarding top-up payments.”
Lincolnshire County Council head of adult care policy and development Richard Collins said: “We wholeheartedly dispute this report; only 49 per cent of Lincolnshire residential homes charge a top-up and this agreement is between the individual and the home.
“After our financial assessment, we always attempt to avoid placing a person somewhere they can’t afford and try to find alternative placements where a top-up isn’t charged. This can also include help to negotiate top-up fees.”