A quarter of care home residents whose care is supposed to be free are being forced to pay top-up fees, according to Age UK.
The charity says almost 50,000 families are paying extra, varying from £25 to more than £100 a week and sometimes amounting so thousands of pounds a year.
In its latest Behind the headlines report, Age UK says even those who have met strict means test conditions are being made to pay extra to supplement their local council’s payment.
Local government leaders responded that councils wanted to do everything possible to make sure people who move into a care home are close to their loved ones, but the report showed they were 'at a tipping point' because of a lack of funding.
Izzi Seccombe of the Local Government Association said despite extra money announced in the March budget councils still faced an annual funding gap in social care of £2.3 billion by 2020.
Age UK describes the top-up fees as a ‘stealth tax’ because they are supposed to be voluntary.
It says if there is no local care home place that a council has enough money to pay for, the resident is now sometimes being forced to contribute to their care if they want to live in their chosen area.
Top-up fees are also being demanded when the cost of a care home which the council originally had enough money to fund has gone up or when a ‘self-funder’ has run out of money.
Age UK says councils need to make people aware of their situation and costs should be made clear, and care home contracts should give residents much greater protection against eviction.
Cllr Seccombe said: 'Councils want to do everything they can to make sure that those who move into a care home are close to their loved ones, and to minimise any stress and difficulties that this places upon families.
'But this report is yet another indication of the stark reality facing adult social care, which is at a tipping point, and the need for the sector to be adequately funded.
'The £2 billion announced in the Spring Budget was a step in the right direction. But councils need to be given full freedom and flexibility to invest this in the areas where it is most needed. The recent announcement around how this should be spent shows this freedom is very much lacking.
'Despite this extra funding, this is one-off money, and councils still face an annual funding gap in social care of £2.3 billion by 2020.
'It is absolutely critical that the Government brings forward its consultation for social care announced in the Queen’s Speech, and that it works with local government leaders in delivering a long-term sustainable funding solution for social care.'