It is very pertinent for the families of those in care homes to make in-depth inquiries about top-up fees before signing contracts, in order to avoid them from incurring substantial bills they may be unable to pay.
There is a notion that some councils use top-up fees as a “secret subsidy” by which some councils limit their own costs.
The councils should monitor these contracts and the government on the other hand should intensify its efforts in signing the care bill into law.
Although, councils are in charge of paying the care home fees of poorer pensioners whose assets are below £23,250, their families are told from time to time that the care home they have chosen charges over the council’s “standard rate” and they will need to pay the difference of sometimes hundreds of pounds a week.
According to the Law, top-ups are only required if relatives decide to pay a little extra for a care home that is above the “standard” level of care available from the council, for more comfortability.
Whatever the case may be, the councils remains legally in control of the agreement. This may mean having to cover the bill if the relative can not afford it any more.
Considering the amount of stress the families go through in deciding, the law is cumbersome and can be difficult to understand.
According to the Guardian:
“This suspicion was looked into last year when the Local Government Ombudsman found that Southampton city council had wrongly required a family to pay more than £150 a week in top-up fees by insisting that it would only pay its standard rate, even though there was no suitable care home place available at this rate
A new report facilitated by the English Community Care Association based on Freedom of Information requests to all English councils and an online survey of care homes made this situation a little clearer:
“No one knows the true extent of top-up fee payments in England because most councils fail to properly monitor and regulate them. Relatives are often left to negotiate top-ups directly with care homes and many councils do not sign – or even see – the contracts that result. Councils state that they don’t regard it as their role to even keep a record of contracts, even though they have the financial liability for them if they go wrong.
Few councils are signposting relatives to independent advice before they sign top-up fee contracts.
There are large variations between councils – and even within councils – in their approach to top-up fees, with some minimising their use and others appearing to regard them as normal and routine.
Few councils are fully carrying out their legal duty to ensure that relatives who agree to pay top-up fees can actually afford to pay them.
There is a clear belief from care homes that the incidence of top-up fees is increasing because the rates that councils pay for care home places are simply too low.”