CMA says care homes may be breaking the law

The Competition and Markets Authority is investigating whether some care homes are breaking the law by charging upfront fees and for extended periods after a resident has died.

As part of the CMA’s initial findings of its care homes market study that began last December, the authority says that as a result of information received, it has opened a consumer protection case to investigate its concerns that some care homes may be breaking consumer law.

The market study was launched to examine whether the residential care homes sector is working well for elderly people and their families. It has now reached the halfway point of the study.

The CMA has already begun to develop recommendations to protect residents and their families, which will be expanded over the next half of the market study. These include examining how:

  • People can be actively supported in making choices
  • Complaints and redress systems can be significantly improved to help people feel more comfortable reporting concerns
  • Residents and their families can best be protected, and how to encourage fair treatment by care homes
  • Local authorities can be encouraged to share best practice in procuring care home services and planning, and developing provision in their areas
  • To encourage investment for the future

Andrea Coscelli

Acting chief executive, Andrea Coscelli, said: “Some of the most vulnerable people in our society use care homes, often moving to them under extremely difficult circumstances. It’s therefore essential they are able to make informed choices, understand how services will be paid for, and be confident they will be fairly treated and able to complain effectively if they have any concerns.

“Demand for care home places is expected to surge over the next two decades. To make sure the additional capacity this requires is available, it needs to be built in good time. At present, short term funding pressures and uncertainty mean that the sector is not attracting investment. We will be focusing on finding ways to deal with these, and other concerns identified.”

The next phase of the CMA’s study will focus on developing and refining these recommendations to ensure they are robust and practicable, and can help make real improvements to the way the sector works. CMA will be seeking views from national and local government, as well as regulators and the industry in each country of the United Kingdom, to ensure these recommendations can be effectively implemented.

The CMA will continue to look at the consumer protection issues identified during the first half of the market study and will consider how best to address these, including by extending the scope of its consumer protection case.

Simon Bottery

Commenting on the report, Simon Bottery, director of policy at Independent Age, said: “The CMA have highlighted market failures in social care that bring the crisis in the sector into sharp focus. Older people and their families are bearing the brunt of these failures, with many people struggling to find and pay for the help they need.

“Care home contracts can often be confusing and we know that it isn’t always clear to people what care services they are expected to pay for. Whilst clearly there are many homes that offer a good service, in some parts of the country as many as two in three homes are under-performing.

“We have to aspire to so much better in a care homes market valued at £15.7billion, so it’s absolutely right that the CMA is shining a light on the poor practices that need to be stamped out. But their report provides another timely reminder that there are big funding problems, and the care homes market faces uncertainty at the very moment it also faces greater demands.

“There are challenges for care providers and local authorities but the government mustn’t pretend they don’t also bear some responsibility for fixing social care, irrespective of the election result. A cross-party approach is now needed.”

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