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Care homes: a review of the rules


Date published

Choosing a residential care home for an elderly parent, relative or friend can be an emotional decision and when you finally make a choice, you expect the care home to treat you fairly as a consumer.

It was interesting to read that following a year-long market study, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) is consulting on new advice to help care homes meet their consumer law obligations.

The study concluded that there is a risk care home residents are being treated unfairly, with some residential care homes potentially breaching consumer law.

As a result of these findings, and the risk to consumers, the CMA is consulting on draft advice to help care homes comply with consumer law. This draft advice includes:

  • what upfront information they need to provide to prospective residents and their representatives to help them make informed choices
  • what they need to do to ensure that their contract terms and the way they treat residents and their representatives are fair
  • their obligation to provide services to residents with reasonable care and skill
  • what they need to do to ensure that their complaint-handling policies and procedures are easy to find, easy to use, and fair

Before publishing this advice, the CMA is consulting with interested parties and representative bodies, as well as enforcers such as local authority Trading Standards Services and sector regulators.

Commenting on the consultation, Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Making a decision about a care home can be overwhelming, particularly as hidden fees and unclear contracts are all too common.

“Care homes often increase fees at short notice, leaving people stuck in care they may not be able to afford. This is clearly unfair and could breach consumer law.

“The guidance should set clear expectations for both care home providers and consumers. Consumers need honest and upfront information, so they can make an informed choice when choosing a care provider.

“If care homes continue to treat consumers unfairly, further action needs to be considered.”

This isn’t the only work being carried out by the CMA in respect of the care home sector. The CMA has also published its final advice on the charging of fees after a resident’s death. This final advice follows a consultation which took place earlier this year.

In a final report on this issue published towards the end of last year, the CMA raised concerns about some care homes and the extent to which they continue to charge fees after a resident has died.

The CMA advice says they are unlikely to object to contact terms which permit a care home to charge fees for no more than a reasonable short and fixed period of up to three days from the day following the resident’s death; and until possessions are cleared from the resident’s room by their representatives, provided a reasonable backstop of no more than ten days is included in the contract terms.

With more and more families experiencing care homes for one reason or another, ensuring that people know what they can expect seems a good idea to us.