According to a recent ‘Which Report’ care home residents are unwittingly signing contracts which could see them kicked out within 24 hours, ‘Which’ has found.
The watchdog warned that vulnerable older people and their families could be subjected to unfair terms because they don’t understand what they are signing.
The Government said it was considering changing the law to protect people from “unscrupulous” providers.
In the course of their research ‘Which’ contacted 50 care homes posing as a family member looking for care for elderly relative. Just four homes agreed to send a sample contract, three of which contained clauses which could be unfair to residents, including the right to end a contract with 24 hours’ notice for “detrimental behaviour”.
Another contract said the home could charge a resident up to a month’s fees following their death, a practice which the Competition and Markets Authority has previously said is illegal.
In a separate poll of 500 people who had recently signed care home contracts, only half said the provider checked that they understood the document they signed, and a third of those who said no checks were carried out said they did not understand what they had signed up to.
Transparency and Care Governance
The lack of transparency in care home contracts is damaging to providers of care home services. I have no doubt that regulations will be brought in to protect Services Users from unwittingly signing contracts where they do not fully understand what they are signing up to.
Why does the social care industry have to wait until they are forced to follow acceptable best practice? The solution of the problem I would suggest is in their own hands.
There is no getting away from the inclusion of charges within a legal Condition of Services Contract. However, the same information could be included in a separate supporting document called a ‘Care Homes Charges for Services’. This would:
- enable Service Users to plainly see what they were signing for and not confused by the complexity of trying to understand the true meaning of charges hidden in the body of the legal contract;
- enable managers and staff to explain more easily to Service Users the charges which would be in singular focus.
- enable care home providers to demonstrate to service users and regulators their commitment to transparency regarding charges for their services and care governance.
Alex Hayman, Which? Managing Director of Public Markets, said: “It’s unacceptable that care homes are making it difficult for people to get hold of contracts and the terms and conditions they are signing up to when making such an important life decision.
“Far too many care home residents are hit with unexpected fees or contract terms –which can have far-reaching and devastating consequences for vulnerable people and their families at an already distressing time.”
Andrew Boaden, Senior Policy Officer at Alzheimer’s Society, called the findings “absolutely appalling”.
He added: “The findings from this investigation are deeply saddening and shameful, but unfortunately unsurprising. Around two thirds (70 per cent) of people living in care homes are affected by dementia.
“And all too often families of people with dementia have called us at their wits end, as their loved one suffers at the hands of bad contract clauses.
“Some have told us harrowing stories of people with advanced dementia evicted at a month’s notice.”
Minister of State for Care, Caroline Dinenage said: “We know it can be distressing for care home residents to face upheaval, that’s why we expect people receiving care to have easy access to information and certainty about their circumstances.
“We’re taking action to tackle poor consumer practices – on Monday we will publish our response to the recent Competition and Market’s Authority report where we will outline stronger consumer protections.
“If improvements aren’t seen we will look to change the law to protect care home residents from unscrupulous practices.”
A CMA spokesperson said: “It is extremely important that care home residents, and their families, can be confident they will be fairly treated, especially during the difficult period after a family member has died.
“That is why we are currently investigating a number of care home providers, to determine if they are complying with consumer law, and have recently consulted on new advice on the charging of fees after a resident’s death.”
The ‘Which Report’ clearly shows a lack of transparency and care governance on behalf of care home providers making people Service Users fully aware of charges for their services. There is clearly a solution which I have outlined. Is it not in the best interests of Services Users and providers to be transparent about what they charge for their services?
Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute
Managing Director, Bettal Quality Consultancy