A Citizens Advice report has called for greater consumer protection in the care home market following a series of damning findings.
The research found that one in five people experienced unexpected additional charges from a care home such as a back bill or top-up fee.
The research also found that people were under extreme time pressures when deciding on a care home with over half (55%) saying arranging a place took under a month and 8% saying it took less than a week. Just under half (49%) said they found the process distressing.
Citizens Advice said families were overwhelmed by the number of variables to consider when choosing a care home and the lack of accessible information.
Only 7% were provided with information about care home fees prior to making direct contact. Almost four in ten (39%) said they did not have enough choice.
Charging practices were found to be confusing with 36% of respondents saying they were not given a copy of the care home contract until after the resident had moved in or not given a contract at all.
While over a quarter (26%) of respondents said they had concerns about a care provider, only 21% said they had made a complaint with 37% responding that they feared repercussions.
The report makes a number of recommendations, including encouraging people to consider care plans.
It argues that older people and their families should have access to advocacy and NHS Digital, local authorities should work together on putting together a common set of standards online.
Care home providers should also improve information to help older people and their families better understand their rights and options, the report argues.
It calls for the Competition and Markets Authority to carry out a study of the market and take enforcement on unfair providers.
Citizens Advice also calls on the CQC to explore how it can help promote consumer protection within the industry.
A CQC spokesperson told Care Home Professional: “We welcome this research from Citizens Advice and will consider this recommendation as we develop our plans for our next phase of inspection, so that we continue to be clear with providers what we expect in relation to the information and support they offer to people who are arranging and paying for care.
“CQC has an important role in making sure people choosing care understand their existing rights under regulation in relation to these issues, and can use CQC’s independent inspection reports and ratings to support their choices. We work extensively with voluntary and community sector organisations to do this, recognising that organisations like Citizens Advice and others are often the first port of call when looking for advice and information.”
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, told us that the report made useful recommendations on improving the experience of people moving into a care home and ensuring greater clarity on contract conditions, fees and other changes.
He added, however, that the report failed to address that the short decision times on moving into home are often due to people being forced out of hospitals.
Professor Green added: “What is needed is for the CAB to look at this issue holistically, rather than focusing on one particular part of the sector.”
The report follows a recent BBC investigation which found hundreds of care homes were banning relatives who complain about the quality of care provided for their loved ones (see Care homes under fire over ‘relative ban’).