Pondering last week’s Sunday Times’ coverage of the Bryant family’s difficulties (resulting in the eviction of a war veteran from a care home, despite his being on CHC, by that time) over an alleged debt….

In last week’s Sunday Times’ Money section, there was a full page devoted to a story about a war veteran being turned out of a care home – even though he was by then a CHC patient, and was settled and well cared for in the home.

The article was quite difficult to follow, but the most important thing in my view to get over to the general public is that if one finds oneself in the position that this man was in, one needs competent advice from people who know some social care law. The daughters in the Bryant saga cannot have had that – and neither can the care home’s management, in my view, if the matter was not resolved before the man was asked to leave.

This man was Council-placed, at first, when he entered the care home. That means that he was eligible for local authority arrangements for a room in the care home, under a contract for a fee, in return for a service.

We all think of such people as ‘the client’, but actually the council is the purchaser and therefore the home’s client, by dint of its statutory duties to the citizen (now under the Care Act). The man was more properly seen as the beneficiary of the council’s contractual arrangements.

The contract was duly made for his care, and without a large council charge being levied on the man’s assets, at first, because he had a spouse continuing to live in the family home.

£550 a week was the rate agreed with the council by the home, for all its clients. The charge that the article speaks of the man having to pay for his care, was the local authority’s, levied by way of a financial assessment and governed by national regulations – this man being someone who had a small pension.

The article said that the home’s standard rate was £880. That is an ambiguous phrase because the sector generally thinks of the rate paid by councils as the standard rate, whilst most homes seek to charge a higher ‘private’ rate to people who are not the responsibility of the State – and different rates, usually lower, for volume purchase or for evidencing their charitable inclinations – to others. That is, they charge different purchasers differentiated prices, and this is perfectly legitimate, as the market is the determinant of what the bed is worth.

The gentleman’s wife died in December 2013. He remained in the home under the Council’s contract, while the daughters were dealing with the estate of the mother and selling the half of the home that was their father’s.

The rest of the article recites what the care home’s position was, as to the rate that it contended should then have been regarded as the rate for ongoing occupation of the room and receipt of the service. The home expected to be paid the private rate from then on in.

However, what is missing from this article is a straightforward principle of public law: any council in this position, could lawfully continue to contract for him – up to and even beyond the sale of his house, – in fact until September 2015, when he qualified for CHC.

The council is ALLOWED (indeed, obliged) to pay for incapacitated people’s placements, even if they are as rich as Rockerfeller. That has always been the law.

Just because someone has an attorney who COULD act on his behalf and make a fresh contract with the care home, does not mean that the council has to withdraw from funding.

I cannot think of any attorney or deputy who would volunteer to take over contracting in the best interests of their parent or relative – because it would only ever cost more, once that had happened.

It is a kindness, really, albeit one paid for out of tax payers’ money, for any council to continue to go on paying, because it makes the person’s money last longer. Whether it is fair to the care home market which might be working at marginal rates of profit is another matter, but this saga is just a sad illustration of lack of basic legal literacy about contract law, in my view.

The charge that the council would have been able to claim from the man’s assets, through the agency of the daughters’ holding joint power of attorney for him, would have been increased, legitimately, under the charging rules, once his half of the house was sold and he acquired the cash equivalent. it was invoiced for by the council, and duly paid to the council, once the sale of the house to the man’s own daughters was approved by the Court of Protection.

The purported debt claim that the care home was trying to make was the difference between £550 and £880, for the period December 2013 when the wife had died, to May 2015, when the house was sold.

After that point, the man does appear to have been freshly contracted for at a normal self-funding private fee (I am inferring that this was the case, and probably with the daughters acknowledging that they now had to sign as his attornies) until he acquired CHC rights in September.

But here’s the point: there was never any mileage at all in the care home’s claim, on the above facts. The daughters paid (retrospectively) the full rate for the council charge, on their father’s behalf, from the day the house was sold, but the rate paid – the full cost rate – was unavoidably and quite legitimately the rate that had already been agreed as between the purchaser (the council) and the care home (the seller).

This is a very straightforward matter not worthy of a full page, in my view. If Hertfordshire (the council in question) had actually chosen to terminate the contract, as of the date of the man’s wife’s death, then the full ‘private’ rate would have been payable from whenever that occurred. The daughters’ leaving the father in the bed could be at least the beginnings of an argument that the private rate was now being implicitly consented to, since there was no-one else paying the fees. If the council chose to go on paying, under contract, however, then the private rate was not payable.

Care homes should think about what it would mean for their cash flow if councils withdrew from contracting in such situations, long before the asset that makes the person a full cost payer has actually been sold – what would they pay the wages out of, then?

The home therefore had no right whatsoever to be paid the full ‘private’ rate on the above facts.

However, its discontent with the situation seems to stem from a Hertfordshire email to the home, informing it that the man was “self funding” from the date the wife died. If that was true, then Hertfordshire did mislead the home somewhat, by not referring to him properly as “a ‘full cost’ charge payer” – but the home should still have been legally literate enough at that point to know that in its own interests,  it had to regularise the contractual position with the daughters. The most maddening thing about the article is that it doesn’t say WHEN the home was told the information, however! It did not BILL the man for the difference between what it had been paid and what it thought it should have been paid, until May 2015 – so this might imply that it was only at that point that they grasped that the man was now in a different financial situation. I would have thought that the home would have picked up on the information that the daughters’ mother had died, just from normal courtesies when they visited. Councils don’t have the right, far less any obligation, to pass on sensitive personal data such as this…

 

What should the home have done, then, on the above facts, if it had grasped that there was a fog looming about who was liable for the fees from the date of the wife’s death? The fact that things got to the stage where it felt that it could and should evict a longstanding client, regardless of the bad press, suggests to me, that no advice was taken or that poor advice must have been given, somewhere along the way.

Even if the council wanted to carry on contracting, the are home was an equal contractual party. Any care home in this situation (apart from a home bound under a very unusually worded contract imposed on it by a very cunning council) would have a right to terminate the contract – if it did not want the resident to continue to take up – at the council rate – a room that a private client would have paid more for.

The home could have terminated the contract itself and re-offered the room to the daughters, on their father’s behalf, at its higher rate.

But of course, publicity such as this article gives the care home sector, would tend to discourage that sort of completely commercially foreseeable but invidious decision.  If we only had a better-informed sector and care consumer base, I can envisage that sort of an offer being able to be made perfectly cordially, however. People’s attorneys and ordinary relatives are not daft, and many know that private care home rates are often kept artificially high, by reason of the artificially low rates that councils impose on an often beleaguered and passive care home sector.

Rather than complain about the cruelty of the eviction, in my view, the family members just needed better legal advice at the time – as did the home’s management. The daughters should have responded to a demand for £16K in this manner: they should have been enabled to write to the home with one simply statement:

“The care that has been provided to our father has been provided under a contract for £550 per week, as between yourself and the council. The fact that our father is now a full charge payer under local authority law does not mean that he can be treated as a self funder; you would need to terminate the contract with the council and seek our agreement as attorneys to paying the full rate if that is what you wish to. We very much hope that you will not do that – because later on this year we expect him to qualify for CHC and then you can charge the Clinical Commissioning Group a higher fee;  but until then, we can only acknowledge that that is your option whilst reiterating that there is no current amount outstanding to the care home from our father’s personal assets. We have never agreed on his behalf (until May 2015) to place him privately in the home.”

The fact that the council told the care home that Mr Bryant was ‘no longer eligible for local authority funding’ does not mean, and never has meant, that he became a self funder. He remained placed under the council’s contract, unless or until it was terminated by either party to it, in accordance with its terms; and as such, he merely became a full cost payer, not a self-funder. Self-funding requires contractual AGREEMENT. End of saga.

Here are some discrete errors of wording in the wider article, that need to be publicised:

“The NHS pays for care if an individual is deemed ill enough to require constant support by healthcare professionals.”

This is a gross misstatement; the National Framework for CHC stipulates that the professional status of the care givers is not relevant, let alone determinative of whether one is deemed to deserve this status.

‘ill enough’ – CHC status leads to free care anyone who is deemed sufficiently dependent to count as having a primary health need, regardless of whether that situation comes about through illness, mental disorder, accident, injury or condition. The use of the word ‘ill’ is therefore seriously misleading.

“James Bryant was granted CHC funding after an assessment last September….The benefit was backdated to August 20th

CHC is not a benefit. It is a status which confers the right to have one’s needs met by the NHS. It affects one’s benefits, but it is not a sum of money that is provided, and it is not a benefit.

“There were 287 complaints about adult social care services in the year to April according to the LGO.”

The article did not clarify whether it meant 287 complaints about privately arranged social care – as to which the LGO has a form of jurisdiction. It might have meant 287 complaints that went ON to the LGO, from council clients or carers – all attempts resolution having failed at the end of the local authority complaints process – which would mean that there were probably thousands more of that sort, made and maybe even resolved.  Both types of complaints do go to the local government ombudsman but if there is ever a complaint about CHC, then the ombudsman in the frame for that sort of a complaint is the HSC – the central government ombudsman.

 

Belinda Schwehr

About Belinda Schwehr

Belinda has been a lawyer (both a barrister and then a solicitor advocate), a law lecturer at a university, and a trainer and consultant specialising in Adults' Social Care legal framework issues. She first became interested in social care law when the Gloucestershire case was running between 1995 and 1997, never having met a real live social worker, before that point! She regards social care as the most interesting field of law she has ever been associated with, combining aspects of public law, the regulation of power, economics, management skills, EU law, procurement, criminal law, incapacity law, land law and contract, and doesn't expect ever to tire of the stuff. If the Care Act is going to be the last word on it, however, she would like to think it was worth all that sitting there and getting fatter whilst thinking about how it should all hang together! She does glass craftwork and house renovations for a hobby, has one son in his twenties, and about 5000 online friends... soon to be 50,000, with any luck!

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