I live in the family home and until last September I was caring for my mum, who has Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, at home.
She became too ill and had to go into a local care home. The cost is astronomical and I’m currently using my power of attorney to pay for mum’s care with her savings, pension and Attendance Allowance.
There’s enough money to keep up with payments until Christmas this year. I’m keeping the heating switched off and have cut down on groceries to try to save some extra money as I’m on minimum wage.
Care bills: Where can you turn for help if you are struggling to cover fees for a loved one? (Stock image)
My big worry is that when the money for mum’s care runs out then I’ll be made homeless as the council say they won’t pay for her care as they’ll take the house instead (my name is not on the house deeds).
The whole situation is worrying me sick and I’m not sleeping!
Tanya Jefferies, of This is Money, replies: I am very sorry to hear you are so concerned, based on information given by your local council, that it could ‘take’ your mum’s house and make you homeless.
There are meant to be safeguards to prevent that kind of extreme outcome.
We approached David Broome, an expert from Age UK which offers free support to carers, for his take on your circumstances. We also asked Ben Tyer, a lawyer experienced in social care cases from GLP Solicitors, to answer your question.
How are care fees paid for at present?
Under the current system someone’s assets – including the family home – is depleted down to £23,250 if they need to go into a care home.
If you need care in your own home, your assets must be depleted to a level set by your local council, which cannot be lower than £23,250, but your home is excluded from this means test.
They both say you have options to prevent or at least delay the sale of your mother’s property.
I hope what follows is useful and offers you some sources of help at what sounds like a terribly challenging time, and wish you and your mother all the best.
David Broome, technical advice support officer for social care at Age UK, replies: The first thing to point out is your mother may be entitled to local authority help with the care fees once her capital – meaning her savings and other assets – reaches the £23,250 threshold.
Seek help with care costs
It’s best to approach your local authority a few months before the capital reaches this level, to allow time for the necessary assessments to take place.
The local authority first needs to agree your mother requires care in a care home before it will consider providing help with the fees.
Basically this means it carries out a needs assessment followed by a financial assessment. It will take into account your mother’s pensions and attendance allowance and will expect her to contribute to the care costs from this income.
So, it may not cover all of the care home fees but this can reduce the overall cost. Payment of attendance allowance stops 28 days after the local authority begins to help with care home fees.
Get your mother’s home excluded from assessment
The value of your mother’s home may be ignored as a capital asset, depending on your circumstances.
A local authority must ignore the value of a care home resident’s former home if, for example, a close relative aged 60 or over still lives there, or a close relative with a disability.
Over 65 and can’t cope without help?
Attendance allowance is an important benefit for over-65s who need help caring for themselves because of an illness or disability.
It’s worth either £58.70 or £87.65 a week, and you don’t need to be hard-up to qualify. Read more here, including tips on how to claim from a benefits expert.
It should be able to advise as to whether something called a ‘mandatory property disregard’ should be applied in your circumstances.
You can also ask the local authority to use its discretion to ‘disregard’ the value of the property, if there are special circumstances that affect you, but this depends on your exact situation.
Delay the sale of your mother’s home
If the value of your mother’s home is taken into account as a capital asset, it may be possible to delay selling it to pay care fees by arranging a ‘deferred payment agreement’ with the local authority.
This is where the local authority pays a contribution towards care fees, on the basis they are repaid once the property is sold, or from the person’s estate after they have died. They place a legal charge on the property.
Anyone thinking of a deferred payment agreement should seek independent financial advice, which is a paid for service.
Look for further help with your finances, and your mother’s
As attorney, you should make sure your mother’s money is kept separately from your own finances and keep accounts of how her money is spent.
You may wish to seek advice about your own financial situation, to explore whether you are entitled to help with meeting day-to-day living costs, for example through claiming a social security benefit yourself.
There are tips to help people save on energy costs on our website here.
Paying for care is a complex subject and you can contact the Age UK Advice Line or a local Age UK service to get advice about your mother’s individual circumstances.
Age UK also publishes information guides and factsheets about social care, available to download from our website. Go to www.ageuk.org.uk or call 0800 678 1602.
Ben Tyer: Guidance to local authorities specifically states that the purpose of a discretionary ‘disregard’ on a property is to safeguard people from the risk of homelessness
Ben Tyer, private client solicitor at GLP Solicitors, replies: If your mum has significant and ongoing healthcare needs (as opposed to social needs) she may be eligible for NHS continuing healthcare (NHS CHC) and, generally speaking, the NHS will pay her care home fees.
Unfortunately, there is a high threshold for NHS CHC which is irrespective of a diagnosis but it is worth considering.
The NHS has details of how it works here, and you will need to ask a GP, social worker, hospital nurse, district nurse, care home nurse or other health professional to start the assessment process.
If your mum is not eligible, then the value of her property will be included in her financial assessment for care home fees and will need to be sold eventually to pay for care once her cash funds run out unless a ‘disregard’ applies.
There can be an automatic disregard if a person who remains living in the property after the owner has gone into care is over 60 or suffering from an incapacity.
If you don’t qualify on those grounds, I would encourage you to ask your local authority to exercise its discretion to apply a disregard anyway, so your mum’s home will not need to be sold.
It is a high hurdle to overcome but they may apply it because it has become your sole home, or if you have given up or sold your own home to care for your mum, or there is a risk of you becoming homeless.
In fact, the guidance to local authorities specifically states that the purpose of this disregard is to safeguard people from the risk of homelessness.
Failing that, even if your mum’s cash funds are dissipated by Christmas then her home may not have to be sold immediately to pay for her care because of the deferred payment system.
This is where the costs of paying for care are delayed until a later date – on her death, for example – which at least gives you some breathing space.
It’s worth adding that only your mum’s share of the property would be taken into account.
Although you aren’t on the title deeds, if you paid the mortgage or funded an extension for example, you might have an interest in it, so not all of it will have to be used to pay the care home fees.
That wouldn’t prevent the property being sold to fund your mum’s care fees, but might leave you some funds to help you find another home eventually.
What help can you seek?
Age UK will offer assistance, as it explains above, writes This is Money.
The NHS webpage about claiming continuing healthcare points people to an organisation called Beacon, which gives free independent advice to applicants.
Beacon’s website is here and its number is 0345 548 0300.
In Beacon’s section about seeking an initial assessment for CHC, it says many health and social care professionals are trained and qualified to complete the checklist that starts the process.
But it adds: ‘Many professionals do not have a good understanding of the procedures or how to apply the checklist correctly.
‘Don’t be put off if your health professional thinks you are wasting your time. You have a right to a request a checklist assessment and you can request one directly from your local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) if you wish.’ You can search for your local CCG here.
A financial planner, Olivia Kennedy of Quilter, whose mum suffered from dementia, shares her story here and you might find this helpful.
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