Jewish Care is to means-test the relatives of new council-funded residents in its care homes, to tackle a funding gap the charity says is unsustainable.
More than 70 per cent of older people living in Jewish Care’s residential care homes are local authority-funded and there is an average £200 a week shortfall per resident between costs and what councils will pay, says the charity’s director of communications Justine Harris.
When council-funded new residents are assessed for a place in a Jewish Care residential home, the charity will talk to families about contributing the full difference.
If a future resident’s relations say paying the top-up is a problem, then Jewish Care asks about a family’s income. It uses government statistics on disposable income and household expenditure to calculate what residents should pay. Based on their income, this could be the full top-up, or a smaller amount. Relatives can appeal to a panel of trustees. If the original decision still stands at appeal, then what happens next varies according to individual circumstances.
Jewish Care may help the older person find another care home without a top-up fee or it might waive its own top-up in extenuating circumstances, says Harris.
She emphasises that nobody will be denied a service because of an inability to pay.
Means-testing relatives used to be voluntary at Jewish Care but is now compulsory, following a review. The charity says its standards are extremely high, with excellent inspection results, hence the large funding gap.
Average fees for a Jewish Care residential bed are £600 a week.
Care analysts Laing & Buisson say £406 a week (add on 20% for London) is a fair price for residential care home fees for 2005/06.
The gap between what councils are prepared to pay and the “reasonable costs of running an efficient and good-quality care home” is between £75 and £85, a report published in 2002 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found.
It said that residential care and nursing homes for older people are underfunded by over £1 billion a year.
The study, Calculating a fair price for care, included a toolkit for local authorities to use to calculate a price for publicly-funded clients in private homes. It was published at a time when many private care homes were closing. The peak was in 2000, when 800 homes in the independent sector shut, according to Laing & Buisson’s 2005 report, Care of elderly people.
“All providers are grappling with how to deal with the massive underfunding of care homes by local authorities and we regularly have to ask for third-party top-ups in many of our homes to make sure we cover our costs,” said Anchor Trust’s managing director for care services, Jane Ashcroft.
Anchor Homes, part of Anchor Trust, is the largest voluntary sector provider of residential and nursing care for older people.
“’The responsibility for adequate funding of care home provision for those who are unable to pay all the fees has to lie with local authorities,” added Ashcroft,
Sheila Scott, chief executive of the National Care Homes Association, said Jewish Care’s move is “understandable” due to the large gap between a “fair care fee” and what councils will pay.
However she doubted how well relatives would take to being asked to divulge private financial information.
Scott agrees it is not sustainable for private and voluntary sector providers to continue to bridge the gap.
She is surprised at the timing of Jewish Care’s move as she believes the funding gap is closing slightly in private sector homes. This is partly due to supply and demand, as there are now less care homes due to all the closures.
However the voluntary sector may well be facing pressure from local authorities to provide care at cut prices, said Scott.