The Competition and Markets Authority is undertaking a thorough review of the care home sector to make sure it works in the best interests of those who rely on it, as Douglas Cooper of the CMA explains.
We launched our market study in December last year to look at issues affecting the 430,000 older people in care and nursing homes across the UK.
As part of this study, we’re looking at a range of issues including:
- How people find the experience of choosing a care home
- How care homes compete to attract residents
- How well care homes are complying with their obligations under consumer law
- Whether the current regulation and complaints systems give residents adequate protection
We want to be sure that the care homes sector is working well for residents and their families.
Home to care home
Care homes can provide a safe, warm and caring environment for older people to be looked after when they’re no longer able to cope at home.
But choosing a care home is a big decision, which often needs to be taken in stressful or upsetting circumstances, and can have a huge financial impact on families.
In particular, we want to know that residents and their families can get the information they need, when they need it, that they understand any contracts they sign once a home is chosen, and that they are treated fairly by the home during the time they need it.
We’re also looking very closely at reports of potentially unfair practices and contract terms being used by some care homes.
We will assess how widespread these concerns are, how they’re affecting residents, and whether they are likely to breach consumer law.
We’re now a few months into our study and have already received a wealth of useful information and well-informed opinions.
We’ve heard from consumer groups and charities about various concerns around potentially unfair practices and contract terms being used by some care homes, including:
- Hidden charges where residents face additional fees for services they didn’t know weren’t covered within the weekly fees. Examples might include charges for accompanying residents to medical appointments or entertainment.
- Fees being increased at very short notice and without clear explanation.
- Care home residents being charged large deposits/upfront payments without being clear what these cover.
- Unreasonably long notice periods to leave the home.
- Residents in receipt of local authority funding being asked directly for top-up payments for additional services by the care home, but it may not always be clear what they are being charged for.
We’re also looking at complaints and redress systems to assess whether these work effectively for residents and their families or if they are difficult to use and deter people from complaining, for example through fear of retaliation against them.
We’re taking a detailed look into how common these practices are.
We haven’t yet formed any view about whether they break any consumer law or other regulations.
But if we do find there are problems, we can take action, including launching enforcement cases or making recommendations for changes in the rules that protect residents and their families.
We want to gather further information and that’s why we welcome the launch of the Which? care home reporting tool, where your comments will be treated confidentially.
We want to hear about the experiences of residents and their families who feel they may have been treated unfairly by a care home.
This will feed into our study and help inform our conclusions when we publish our final report by the end of the year. We’ll also be ready to publish our interim report in May this year.
This is a guest contribution by Douglas Cooper of the CMA. All views expressed here are the CMA’s and not necessarily those shared by Which?.
What’s your experience of the care home sector? Have you or an older relative/friend ever been treated unfairly by a care home’s practice, contract or complaints procedure? Or, if you’ve ever worked in the sector, what sort of problems did you encounter?
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