Competition watchdog to probe care home hidden bill charges

Care homes for the elderly are being investigated by the competition watchdog following concerns over people potentially being faced with shock bills and 'hidden' charges.

Watchdog to looks at UKs care homes. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Competition and Markets Authority has launched a market study to look at how people find the experience of choosing a care home, explore whether the current regulation and complaints system gives residents enough protection and examine how well homes comply with obligations under consumer law.

The CMA wants to speak with care home residents and their relatives who have encountered unexplained or “hidden” charges, unexpected fee increases, confusing requests for “top-up” payments and complaints not been handled fairly.

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Andrea Coscelli, CMA acting chief executive, said: “Choosing a care home can be emotional and costly. It’s essential elderly people and their families have all the information they need to make the best choice and feel secure in the knowledge they will be fairly treated.

“We are undertaking a thorough review of the sector to make sure it works in the best interests of those who rely on it.” Around 430,000 older people are in care and nursing homes in the UK and the study will evaluate the effectiveness of competition between care homes in driving quality and value for money for residents and taxpayers.

It will also consider how local authorities and other public bodies purchase and assign care home places and how they can shape local supply.

Market studies launched by the CMA can have a wide range of outcomes including law enforcement action and recommendations to change regulations.

Citizens Advice had called for the CMA to investigate the market after it discovered one in five people with family in a care home were getting shock bills and having just a week’s notice about fees going up.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “People are experiencing a number of problems with the care market including short notice of cost increases and hidden charges, for things like 
management fees, which
can run into thousands of pounds.

“In some instances relatives don’t make a complaint to the company because they worry that the resident could be treated badly.”

Vickie Sheriff, director of campaigns at consumer group Which? said: “We welcome the decision to investogate this market and ensure all providers are aware of their obligations under consumer law.”