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Unexpected bills prompt calls for greater legal protection for care home residents

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New research has suggested that significant numbers of elderly people are receiving substantial care bills “out of the blue”.

Citizens Advice is concerned that a sizeable proportion of the 300,000 pensioners living in a care homes across England and Wales are being hit by unexpected charges.

In fact, as many as one in five are thought to have been invoiced for a service they weren’t expecting, such as a “management fee” or phone charge. In some cases these bills – which the family have not budgeted for – run into thousands.

Citizens Advice, who carried out a series of interviews with the family members who arranged care for a love one, found that part of the problem was that pensioners were often moved into residential or nursing care at relatively short notice.

An accident or sudden turn of ill health means that relatives don’t always have time to examine the small print of a contract. The majority of people are moved into a home within the space of a month, while one in ten has less than a week to sort out the arrangements.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “It is then a shock when a large bill does come in or fees are put up.  But moving to another care home is often not an option because it is too disruptive or distressing for the resident.

“This leaves people with little choice but to pay these unexpected costs, which can amount to thousands of pounds a year.”

Caroline Abrahams, from the charity Age UK, has backed calls for reforms to reduce the number of families being caught unaware.

“They not only often face eye wateringly high weekly fees, many are asked to pay even more through various extra charges as proprietors struggle to balance the books,” she said.

“Older people and their families deserve greater legal protection from care home contracts that are one-sided and extra charges that are over the top.”