Bereaved families are being charged thousands of pounds in care home fees after a relative dies in care, despite the competition watchdog saying such arrangements are likely illegal.
Some providers are charging close relatives sums equivalent to a month’s care after a resident dies, four years after the Competition and Markets Authority ruled such charges illegal.
Michael Moore has been asked for a £2,100 ‘adjustment’ fee after his aunt June Blackman died in a Norfolk care home last April. He had expected a discount from Lydia Eva Court in Gorleston-on-Sea, near Great Yarmouth, as he had prepaid her childcare costs for the month in which she died.
“When I questioned him, I was told that the terms and conditions allow the home to charge fees for 14 days after a resident dies,” he said. “This ‘adjustment’ fee was on top of the £5,100 fee I had already paid for what turned out to be the last month of his life.”
In 2018, an investigation into unfair charges by the CMA found that nursing homes that charged for long periods after a resident’s death were breaking consumer protection laws. The regulator said families should not be charged more than three days of pro-rated fees after a death.
Up to 10 days may be charged if there is a delay in removing the deceased’s belongings from their room. Healthcare providers were required to change their terms and conditions with immediate effect or face enforcement action under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Practices Regulations 2008 unfair trade.
However, some healthcare providers continue to charge excessive amounts. NorseCare, which runs Lydia Eva Court along with 20 other care homes across East Anglia, has kept a clause buried in its terms and conditions which allows it to charge full care costs for two weeks after a resident dies.
A spokesperson for the company said: ‘Unlike many UK care providers, NorseCare does not take a deposit in advance. Instead, NorseCare has a final charge following the death of a resident, allowing us to undertake the maintenance and refurbishment to bring the room back into use.
However, unlike initial deposits, NorseCare fees are non-refundable. According to CMA guidelines, deductions for maintenance and refurbishment should be clearly stated in the terms and conditions and invoice and supported by evidence.
Normal wear and tear cannot be charged. Neither NorseCare’s terms and conditions seen by the Guardian nor the invoice sent to Moore mention what the 14-day fee covers.
NorseCare, which supports 1,500 residents, is part of the Norse Group, owned by Norfolk County Council. The company declined to comment on how it justifies the mandatory, uncosted maintenance fee and declined to reverse Moore’s bill.
“In light of Mr. Moore’s concerns, NorseCare will seek to review how we communicate our contracts and how can we improve the customer experience for all future residents,” a spokesperson said.
Norfolk County Council said it had not defined or monitored “the detailed business arrangements for NorseCare”, but had asked the Nordic council to review its current pricing policy.
Many families are likely to have paid surtaxes after a death without realizing that they can be disputed.
Last year, the local government and social services ombudsman ordered a care home in Surrey to reimburse a complainant who was charged four weeks of care costs after the death of a parent.
Since fees tend to be buried in the fine contractual print, which is not usually published on nursing home websites, it is impossible to assess how many others are still charging fees that may be considered. as illegal by the AMC.
The Care Quality Commission, which regulates the care industry, said it does not collect data on unfair charges and was unable to comment. The AMC also declined to comment.