Page last updated at 14:38 GMT, Saturday, 17 January 2009

Worries over high care home costs

Pensioner's hands being held by a carer
The cost of care is a major concern to many people

Elderly people and their carers have to search for suitable care homes "in the dark" - a charity has reported.

Counsel and Care wants the government to overhaul the entire care system and make it simpler and more transparent.

Of the 2,620 calls made to the charity's advice helpline in 2008, 30% were from people worried about how to pay for care homes.

The Department of Health said it would work closely with local authorities to protect the welfare of residents.

People with savings or a property worth 22,250 or more do not qualify for local authority aid with home fees.

The amount is due to increase to 23,000 in April.

Rising costs

Being able to pay for a care home was the most common worry of those ringing the charity; many were also concerned about how to cope with a lack of information when it came to choosing a home.

The report - Finding and Financing Care in Hard Times - said many callers were concerned about having to use their savings to pay for rising care costs.

The report states that sometimes people are forced to pick a home "in the dark, based on incomplete information and often during a time of great stress or illness".

The charity's chief executive, Stephen Burke, said the situation had become worse because of the economic downturn.

'More regulation'

He said: "This report is very telling, showing the real struggle older people, their families and carers are currently facing when trying to pay for care.

"The credit crunch does not mean that the government has a 'get-out-of-jail free' card on considering a meaningful increase in funding for older people's care."

The report calls for more regulation in the industry, which it says could prevent large annual fee rises. It also urges care homes to be more transparent about their fees.

The government is creating a green paper on the future of long-term care.

Mr Burke said: "Clearly this report highlights the need for radical reform in the green paper to create a care system that is simple, fairer, consistent, transparent and flexible."

The report comes before the charity's annual conference on the issue on 25 February in London.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Arrangements between care homes and people paying for their own care are private contracts.

"Care home residents are entitled to apply for public help with the cost of their care, subject to a test of their means, if they have less than 22,250 in savings. This will increase to 23,000 in April 2009.

"The government will work closely with local authorities and care providers to ensure they are able to meet their statutory responsibilities and protect the welfare of care home residents."

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