Age UK says that while arguments continue over care funding during the pandemic, it is older people and their families who are picking up the tab
As if they haven’t already suffered enough, some older people who fund their own care home fees and their families are now telling Age UK that they are being forced to pay a steep and unexpected ‘Coronavirus bill’ by their care provider.
In the last few weeks the Charity has been contacted by older people who are being asked by the management to stump up more than £100 a week on top of their usual care home fees, as PPE and the cost of covering staff absences push the finances of some care homes into the red, threatening their sustainability.
There is no doubt that care providers have been faced with significant challenges in trying to stop coronavirus spreading, with 39% of all care homes – or more than 6000 in England reporting an outbreak. Many are now facing additional costs as a result of this. Reports suggest costs are mounting to more than 30% higher than usual, and that as many as 20,000 care homes may go out of business without urgent additional support.
The Government allocated £1.6bill to councils on 28th April and set up a £600 mill Infection Control Fund on 15th May to help them meet the extra costs of the pandemic, and at the time it was suggested that much of this would and should be passed on to care providers in their areas. However, there have been complaints from some care homes that their council has failed to pass on the cash, leaving them to struggle to meet the additional costs they face alone. To be fair, there is no doubt that many councils are struggling financially too, with suggestions that some are at risk of serious financial issues unless they receive additional Government funding soon.
This situation has rumbled on for weeks now, all the while more than 16,000 care homes residents have tragically lost their life to coronavirus and the sector has seen more than double the usual number of deaths being reported in care homes.
As the arguments go on about how much public cash is available to support social care through the pandemic, and on what it can be spent, it seems that some care homes are taking matters into their own hands and presenting their self-funding residents with a new and unexpected ‘Coronavirus bill’.
The Charity can confirm that some care home residents are being asked to pay an excess charge of 15% on top of already high fees. This amounts to an extra bill of £127.65 for the average person in England who pays for their own care home, on top of their usual average fees of £851 a week – although we know for many this weekly fee is far higher.
We understand that ‘Coronavirus bills’ are being levied by some care homes due to:
- the rapidly increasing costs of purchasing PPE
- rising wage bills from covering Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and backfilling absent staff with more expensive agency staff
- the need for them to meet the planned increase in the living wage, which Government introduced without giving care providers any extra money with which to pay for it.
As years of underfunding have meant the provision of State funded care has failed to keep up with the needs of our ageing population, the majority of older people living in care homes in England now have to pay for their own care. Recent estimates suggest there are around 400,000 people living in care homes in England, of whom 167,000 are self-funders and an additional 45,000 are part self-funders.
It is well established that these ‘self-funding’ care home residents are already paying a huge cross-subsidy in the form of higher fees, to prop up the woefully under resourced State system. On average, someone who pays for their own care home place is charged 41% more by the management compared to what the State (local council) has to find, for an identical service. This has been widely criticised as a ‘stealth tax’ on older people who are often by no means affluent themselves, but who do not qualify for the tightly means-tested State system.
70% of older people living in care homes have dementia or some other form of cognitive decline.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity director at Age UK said:
“Older people living in care homes and their families have been through the mill these last few months as the virus has ripped through one in three of these settings, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. It is adding insult to injury that after going through so much, some residents who pay for their own care are now facing a big extra bill – on top of already expensive fees.”
“Where care homes face extra costs on account of the pandemic it’s only fair that central Government ensures they are met – otherwise there’s a risk that some homes could fold, leaving their residents homeless. This would be bad enough at the best of times, let alone now when the virus continues to pose a threat, making it safest for everyone to stay put.”
“The fact that older people who pay for their own care home place routinely have to stump up more than 40% on top of what the State has to find is a long-running scandal, but these ‘Coronavirus bills’ make the injustice even worse. They should be outlawed and care homes under acute financial pressure given the emergency Government funding they need.”