Care homes that hit residents with shock rises in bills or have contracts riddled with hidden charges are to be investigated by regulators looking to see if the sector is treating people fairly and providing value for money.

The Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) inquiry will cover the 430,000 older people in care and nursing homes across the UK.

It comes weeks after a bleak Care Quality Commission assessment warned that the quality and safety of social care received by elderly and disabled people in England are at risk, with care homes closing and providers pulling out because they can no longer make enough money.

The CMA said its inquiry would examine reports of “potentially unfair practices and contract terms being used by some care homes” and whether they breach consumer law.

It said it would “particularly like to hear from care home residents and their relatives who have encountered issues such as unexplained or ‘hidden’ charges, unexpected fee increases, confusing requests for ‘top-up’ payments, or occasions when they feel that complaints have not been handled fairly”.

There are approximately 17,000 care homes in England, with the market worth about £16bn a year. About 15% of over-85s live in care homes, with the number expected to rise substantially as the population ages.

Research by Citizens Advice this year found one in 10 care homes give only a week’s notice that fees are going to rise; a third of bill payers put down deposits without any protection scheme; and people often have to make decisions about moving a loved one into a home at very short notice, and are unable to properly plan.

In one case highlighted by the Guardian in October, a nursing home in Colwyn Bay, north Wales, closed abruptly, leaving families desperately searching for alternative accommodation for their relatives. It is a story repeated across the country as cash-strapped care providers abandon struggling businesses.

Costs for an average single room in a UK residential care home went through the £30,000 per annum barrier this year, rising by 5.2% to £30,926, more than double the average pensioner’s income of £14,456, according to the Prestige Nursing and Care nursing agency.

The CMA market study will assess whether competition between care homes is driving quality and value for money for residents and taxpayers.

Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s acting chief executive, said: “Choosing a care home can be emotional and costly. We are undertaking a thorough review of the sector to make sure it works in the best interests of those who rely on it.

“We want to hear from care home providers about the services they offer and any challenges they face, as well as residents, families and charities who have experienced what it’s like to choose and live in a care home.

“Given the concerns we have heard about possible breaches of consumer law, we particularly want to hear from people who think they might have encountered unfair terms or practices.”


Patrick Collinson

The GuardianTramp

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