Care home leaders are celebrating after a council ordered a review of its fees for providers under threat of a judicial review challenge.
Staffordshire Council's decision follows a successful legal challenge to Sefton Council's decision to freeze fees for residential providers, and indicates that providers are reaping dividends from taking authorities to court over fees that do not cover the costs of care.
"I have previously stated that we have tried to positively engage local authorities and to educate health commissioners, but these efforts have never borne fruit," said Martin Green, chief executive of the English Community Care Association.
"The bottom line is that the only way to move a primary care trust or a local authority these days is through the real threat of legal action or litigation and this has been proven today."
Green is chair of the Fairer Fee Forum (FFF), the campaign group that brought the claim. FFF was set up to co-ordinate providers' campaigns against fees that did not meet care costs and is being represented by law firm Aston Brooke Solicitors.
Under the agreement, Staffordshire Council will carry out a "fair, transparent and comprehensive review of the usual costs of providing care home care locally" to inform its fee level for 2012-13, and potentially revise levels for 2011-12. An independent body will monitor the data quality, calculations and assumptions used as part of the review.
"I am delighted that we've reached a voluntary agreement with FFF, without the potential cost to taxpayers of a judicial review," said Matthew Ellis, Staffordshire cabinet member for adults and well-being. "This agreement is a common-sense solution which has the potential to put the care home sector in Staffordshire on a firmer footing for the future."
The Staffordshire and Sefton cases raise the spectre of further legal challenges to council decisions on fees, as rates have fallen by 2.5% in real terms according to market experts Laing and Buisson.
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