Leading care home operator Care UK has agreed to refund more than £1m to NHS funded residents following action by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
The fee, which in most cases was above £300 per week and was charged to NHS Continuing Healthcare residents in premium homes, is designed to cover the costs of essential care for long-term complex health needs.
The CMA said Care UK had broken consumer protection law by charging the additional fee because it was unfair and contravened NHS rules, which require that Continuing Healthcare residents must not be required to pay towards their essential care.
As a result, Care UK has agreed to offer repayment to over 160 residents at more than 20 premium care homes by the end of November.
The majority of those affected will receive a pay-out of over £1,000 with some receiving substantially more.
Care UK has also signed a formal commitment to stop charging the additional fee. The agreement came after the CMA launched legal action against Care UK in February 2019.
Michael Grenfell, Executive Director of Enforcement at the CMA, said: “Older people receiving Continuing Healthcare funding are some of the most vulnerable in our society and should not be expected to pay extra fees towards their essential care.
“That’s why we’ve worked hard to secure refunds from Care UK for those who paid these unfair fees.
“We are pleased to see Care UK committing to make repayments as quickly as possible, and to stop charging this additional fee altogether, which is good news for all current and future residents.”
A Care UK spokesperson said: “The CMA’s action to stop us offering families the option of placing their loved ones in a premium home by making a personal contribution in addition to NHS funding is a backwards step in terms of consumer choice.
“The number of families this affects within Care UK has always been very small and, as such, we agreed to settle with the CMA to enable us to focus on the more pressing challenges facing the sector at present.
“Over the period we offered this option, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) were supportive of having access to additional homes, and the small number of families involved welcomed the additional choice it provided. The enhanced fee covered a range of benefits enjoyed by residents in a premium setting, including spacious en-suite rooms, on-site facilities such as cafes and cinemas, a wide range of lifestyle activities and a premium dining experience. These families always had the option of more modest, fully funded homes as an alternative.
“In light of unclear NHS guidance and the widespread nature of these fees across the sector, we reject the CMA’s suggestion that they were unfair. In reaching this settlement, we do not accept that we have breached any rules or misled anyone taking a place with us. We have done our best to be transparent with all involved, and as these fees are common practice with a great many other care home providers, we are at a loss to understand why the CMA has singled out Care UK.”