A highly charged debate was held on BBC Radio Five Live on 26 February about the problem of care home fees: the fact that local authorities fail to take a uniform approach in using the powers available to them to recover the cost of care from those who should be paying and the fact that some families are hiding details of their parents' wealth in order to avoid them having to pay their own care fees. A summary of the debate is available on the BBC's website.
The issue is an emotive one. Care fees in the UK are alarmingly high and yet the threshold of personal assets owned over which an individual is required to contribute to those costs is fairly low, at around £23,000 for most. For many, the thought of a relative's (or indeed one's own) hard-saved nest egg being used up in care fees is distressing. As the debate showed, some relatives are deciding to be less than truthful when declaring their parents' assets, on the basis that sometimes local authorities do little to investigate further. The repercussions of this can be serious, let alone the emotional impact on families who often fall out as a consequence of failing to agree what is "the right thing to do" in the circumstances, as the Five Live debate clearly showed.
Careful and early planning can help. For example, the use of trusts in Wills for a surviving spouse's inheritance might be considered and this is something we often consider with our clients. People concerned about the costs of care and the options available to them or their relatives should seek advice at an early stage, and not rely on the local authority failing to do a thorough job when making its assessment.