Thousands of older people and their families could potentially be hit with unexpected bills and find themselves tied into unfair contracts, according to an investigation by consumer champion Which?.
A recent Which? survey of 100 UK care home websites revealed how difficult it is for people to find the information they need to make an informed choice about a provider. Of the websites analysed, 86 provided no pricing information, 91 offered no detail on any charges made in addition to room rates, and only three care home providers made their terms and conditions available online.
Which? also found that over one in four (27%) of the English care homes surveyed either completely failed to display their CQC rating online or did so poorly, in some cases making it almost impossible to find, despite there being a legal requirement for it to be conspicuously displayed. The findings come in the wake of the regulator’s recent report that one fifth of care homes in England offer inadequate levels of care.
Which? evidence also indicates that care home providers could be breaching consumer protection laws with unfair terms and conditions, following a review of sample contracts and case studies shared with Which?. Potentially unfair terms included demanding that relatives take on joint legal liability for care home fees, the ability of a care home to terminate the contract within 24 hours for undefined “detrimental behaviour” and asking bereaved families to pay for their loved one’s room and care for up to a month after their death.
A relative of a care home resident told Which?:
“…the contract that we signed said that at whatever point in the month a resident dies, there will be no refund for the rest of that month. Even though we were prepared to fully clear his room that day, we never received a penny back. Upset from just losing Dad, I was not in a fit state to challenge t his.”
Which? is calling on the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to deliver reforms that significantly improve people’s experiences of care homes. The CMA should use its Care Homes Market Study to issue guidance on the information that care homes must provide, to make it easier for people to complain when they have a problem, and to expand the scope of its competition case if it finds further evidence of breaches of consumer law.
Alex Hayman, Managing Director of Public Markets at Which?, said:
“The problems uncovered by our research are very troubling given the potential impact on both those receiving and arranging care. Care home providers are making it far too difficult for many elderly people and their families to find the vital information they need to make important decisions about their care, with some expecting them to commit to unfair contracts.
“The CMA must now ensure that reforms are brought forward to stamp out these poor practices wherever they exist, starting with greater transparency from providers to ensure that people are properly protected at all stages of the process of finding and securing care.”
Notes to editors:
- *CMA Care Homes Market Study update report, published 14 June 2017
- **CMA consumer protection case into care home contract terms and/or unfair practices opened 13 June 2017
- Which? conducted an audit of 100 care home websites in June 2017 looking at the quality of information presented.
- CQC (Care Quality Commission) ratings missing: of the 100 care homes surveyed, 82 are English, and therefore should adhere to the CQC’s regulations on displaying their CQC rating (Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have their own regulatory bodies). Of these 82 English homes, 58 conspicuous displayed dated ratings on the front page of their website, and three homes had not yet been rated. 10 of the 79 homes which had been rated, did not display any information about their rating, and 11 displayed the information in a non-conspicuous way or were missing the date of the assessment. The CQC rating should provide consumers with an objective view of the care home, but cannot when it is not conspicuously displayed.
- Which? contacted 50 care homes by telephone to request additional information, including contracts. Only 17 sent further information by post or by email by Friday 7 July 2017.
- Which? obtained only four sample contracts from care home providers in its investigations. Of that sample, 3 out of the 4 contracts contained terms that could be considered detrimental to the consumer.
- Which? has received over 750 case studies to date, including the below. Further case studies may be available on request.
- ‘My late father lived at this private home for 6yrs. Monthly fees were always required to be paid in advance, in time for the beginning of each month. On 1.3.16 he had a bad fall and an ambulance took him to hospital…He died of his injuries the following day. The day after his death, when I asked the home owner about the fees for March 2016 and whether we would get any money back (around £3,500/month. ) I was told that we would not, as the contract that we signed said that at whatever point in the month a resident dies, there will be no refund for the rest of that month. Even though we were prepared to fully clear his room that day, we never received a penny back. Upset from just losing Dad, I was not in a fit state to challenge her on this.’
- Which? is gathering case studies to build a better picture of people’s experiences with care homes. If you have a story you would like to share with us, please visit http://which.co.uk/carehomes
- Which? Elderly Care is a free website offering practical, impartial information and advice about arranging care in the UK. The information on the site is aimed at relatives and friends of people in need of care advice but it can also be used by people arranging care for themselves. Visit www.which.co.uk/elderly-care