Local authorities have a duty to provide clear information on the care system, council chiefs say as research reveals care homes are withholding contracts and not explaining terms to customers.
Research by Which? found fewer than one in 10 out of 50 care homes contacted provided a sample contract on request. And of the four received, three contained ‘unfair’ terms.
These ‘unfair’ terms, according to the watchdog, included charging fees for a month after death and the right of care homes to terminate a contract with just 24-hours notice for undefined ‘detrimental behaviour’.
Which? also surveyed more than 500 members of the public about their experiences with care home contracts.
Only 54% of respondents said the provider checked if they understood the document they were signing, and 27% said no-one checked if they understood the terms and conditions.
Almost a third (31%) of this latter groups said they did not understand the contract at all or did not understand it very well.
Care homes, as Which? points out, could be in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations by not ensuring their customers have all the information they require to make informed decisions.
‘It’s unacceptable that care homes are making it difficult for people to get hold of contracts and the terms and conditions they are signing up to when making such an important life decision,’ said Alex Hayman, Which? managing director of Public Markets.
‘Far too many care home residents are hit with unexpected fees or contract terms – which can have far-reaching and devastating consequences for vulnerable people and their families at an already distressing time.
‘The Government must now ensure the rules governing care homes are fit for purpose and adequately protect residents and their families in its upcoming response to the competition authority’s market study.’
Responding to Which?’s findings, Cllr Linda Thomas, vice chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Community Wellbeing Board, said: ‘Councils have duties to provide information and advice on the care system, the types of care available, providers and how to access support.
‘This is part of a wider process of helping people through the care system, and providers have an important role to play in ensuring that people understand their care contracts and are comfortable with them.
‘This is important for transparency, certainty, understanding and peace of mind.’