Headlines: May 19th, 2005

The Office of Fair Trading is calling for a ‘one-stop-shop’ for information on care homes to help older people to make the right choices about their care. It also wants local authorities to publish detailed directories of available care and information on pricing and funding.The recommendation follows a ten-month study that was prompted by a complaint from ‘Which?’ – formerly the Consumers’ Association – on behalf of Social Policy Ageing Information Network, an umbrella body including Age Concern, Help the Aged, The Association of Charity Officers, and the Alzheimer’s Society.

More than 40,000 older people receive residential and nursing care in 15,700 private, voluntary and local authority care homes, a market estimated to be worth 8 billion pounds. The OFT report says improved provision of information should be supported by better access to complaints procedures, greater price transparency and fairer contract terms for care home residents.

The report says choosing a care home is a major life decision, often involving a large financial commitment. Few older people move to another home once they have made the decision, even if they are dissatisfied. Often when they move into a home older people are in poor physical or mental health and can be vulnerable and distressed. About half of them move into a home after a period in hospital and often arrangements have to be made quickly.

The OFT says many of the difficulties that arise are inevitable but some can be prevented. The study found significant problems in obtaining information about moving into a home and about complaint procedures as well as problems with issues surrounding contract terms. The study identified significant gaps in the information provided at almost every stage of choosing a care home. Older people and their relatives may find it hard to know where to go for relevant information.

It also found a lack of consistency between local authorities in the provision of advice and support, especially for people who were are not eligible for council-funded care.

The OFT is recommending a national gateway for care home information. Local authorities should feed into the gateway directories which should include information such as what services authorities are obliged to provide, a list of homes in their areas and the services they provide, prices and information on top-up payments above local authority funding. It also wants Government guidance to councils to be revised to ensure authorities provide advice to all older people seeking residential care, whether or not they qualify for authority funding.