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Calling for clarity over new lifetime care costs cap

Published on 09 July 2013 11:30 PM

Age UK calls for greater clarity over £72,000 lifetime cap on care costs

Age UK today releases the first comprehensive overview of what the Government's new lifetime care costs cap will mean for someone who needs support in later life.

The cost breakdown is included in its report "The Dilnot social care cap: making sure it delivers for older people in 2016"(1) released today.

The Age UK analysis shows that the proposed system is complex and may prove difficult for many older people and their families to negotiate. As a key aim of the care costs cap is to help people to plan for future care needs, Age UK is calling for local authorities and the Government to ensure that information campaigns and training for social care staff start immediately to ensure complete clarity around costs, eligibility and means test thresholds.

As the eligibility threshold looks likely to be set at a level equivalent to substantial care needs, many older people and their families may be disappointed to discover that only care costs incurred once they reach this threshold will count towards the cap.

They may also be surprised that the total amount they pay for residential care may not be taken into account when calculating their contributions to the cap.

Under the proposals the ‘cost' of a care home will be based on the amount that the local authority pays for a place, known as the "usual rate". As ‘bulk buyers' of care home places local authorities are able to negotiate lower fees than individuals.

At the moment, care home providers argue that the rates paid by local authorities are too low and in fact often family members are asked by local authorities to pay "top up fees", even though their relative is entitled to free social care. It has long been believed that those individuals paying privately effectively cross subsidise local authority residents in many care homes. So, as the analysis shows, an individual may not be able to count the full cost of the ‘care' component against their lifetime cap. In addition, it is already clear that the ‘daily living component' of a care home fee will not count towards the lifetime cap either.

However the Care Bill requires all local authorities to find care at the "usual rate" for anyone who makes a request.

This could mean individuals pay lower fees, but in the report Age UK flags its concerns around the potential impact on the care market.

There are around 175,000 people funding their own care in residential homes. Some individuals choose to pay higher fees as a premium for additional features above and beyond a standard quality care home, much like paying a premium for a luxury hotel. However, many are forced to pay a rate higher than the local authority pays simply because they cannot find a care home place at the ‘usual rate'.

If local authorities try to buy care for far more individuals who want to pay for care at the local authority "usual rate", then care home owners may either have to provide places at a price that they argue does not allow them to run a viable business, or turn people away. Or, alternatively, those older people who organise and pay for their own care could find that their charges were significantly raised.

This situation could result in care home owners being driven out of business or local authorities having to pay higher "usual rates" as homes no longer able to cross-subsidise are forced to raise fees across the board, which would result in additional pressures on already squeezed social care budgets. This would also be unfair on older people forced to pay higher care home fees than they had previously anticipated.

The analysis uses a fictional person "Mrs A" to illustrate the complexities of the proposed new system. Whilst she has average income and assets compared to her peers, her care needs are more severe than average; for example, her stay in a care home is two years - longer than the median average of 22 months.(2) The analysis shows that although Mrs A is certainly not worse off under the new system and, depending on how her needs develop, is better off to varying degrees, the new system only offers limited protection. Most people will still have to meet much of the cost of their care.

Michelle Mitchell Charity Director General of Age UK said: 'I think our main finding from this analysis is that the proposed system is far from straightforward and both those planning for future care costs and families trying to sort out immediate care needs are likely to need help understanding it.

'For example, if only people with care needs assessed as "substantial" qualify for local authority support this means that care which people purchase to help with lower but still quite significant levels of need will not go towards the lifetime cap. There is likely to be further confusion with residential care and how much of the total fee will count towards the cap.

'If the Government wants to help older people plan for potential care costs, it needs to help people understand, ideally long before they actually need care, how the system will work and what individuals will actually have to pay.

'The Government and local authorities also need to carefully manage the impact of the new system on the care home market and council budgets. Government must ensure they help both care homes and local authorities adjust to the changes in the market caused by more people purchasing care at the usual rate, and this must not be at the cost of unreasonably raising fees for older people who fund and organise their own care. By levelling the playing field for self-funders these proposals could be a real help but there could be major unintended consequences if care home owners are forced to accept fees that are too low to enable them to run a viable business, or to deliver safe, high quality care.'



Notes to editors

  1. The Dilnot social care cap: making sure it delivers for older people in 2016opens link in new window
  2. Length of stay in care homes, Julien Forder and Jose-Luis Fernandez

Age UK
For media enquiries relating to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland please contact the appropriate national office: Age Scotland on 0131 668 8055, Age Cymru on 029 2043 1562 and Age NI on 028 9024 5729.

Age UK is the new force combining Age Concern and Help the Aged, dedicated to improving later life.

We provide free information, advice and support to over six million people; commercial products and services to well over one million customers; and research and campaign on the issues that matter to people in later life. Our work focuses on five key areas: money matters, health and well being, home and care, work and training and leisure and lifestyle. We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI (together the Age UK Family), our local Age UK partners in England and local Age Concerns. We also work internationally for people in later life as a member of the DEC and with our sister charity Help Age International.

Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and company number 6825798). Age Concern England and Help the Aged (both registered charities), and their trading and other associated companies merged on the 1st April 2009. Together they have formed the Age UK Group ("we").  Charitable services are offered through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity's trading companies, which donate their net profits to Age UK (the Charity).

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Last updated: Oct 06 2017

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