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Counting the cost of care: the council’s role in informing public choices about care homes

Focus report: learning lessons from complaints

The decision to place a loved one in a care home can be one of the hardest any family has to make, but all too often families are paying too much for their care
because they are not getting the correct, timely information. The need to find a permanent care home often arises when a family member has been in hospital and is unable to return to their home, and the decision is frequently made at short notice.

Getting the choice right
The financial cost is one of the major factors families must weigh up when deciding on a care home; councils may provide funding, but if someone chooses a home which costs more than the council will fund, there needs to be an arrangement for a ‘top-up’ fee to cover the difference.

This report identifies the common mistakes the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has found when investigating complaints about care home top-up fees.

For people to make the most informed choice, it is crucial that they get the right information at the right time. But we see cases where councils provide either confusing or incorrect information; do not offer potential residents and their families a genuine choice of affordable care home; or do not have an affordable option at all.

We are not alone with our findings – other sections of the health and social care sector say that a lack of information is a problem. In a recent report from Healthwatch England, the national consumer champion in health and care said that insufficient information, poor communication and a lack of involvement in decision making can be major problems when people are discharged from hospital.

In writing
Councils need to provide information in writing at the earliest opportunity so people can make informed decisions about:
>> The choice of care home, including the costs, how to meet them and whether to pay a top-up;
>> Whether to sell the individual’s home to pay the care home fees or ask the council for a deferred payment agreement so they do not have to sell their home during their lifetime.

While councils are under increasing pressure both financially and in terms of their growing populations in need of care - according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, councils’ net spending on social care per capita was cut by 16.7 per cent between 2009-10 and 2014-15 - they still need to make sure this information is provided, and meets current government guidance.

We hope that by identifying these common faults we will help councils and care providers avoid them in future. The information should also help those going into residential care, their relatives, or those already in care, to understand their rights.