• Sarah Whitebloom

The CMA can act over scandal of fees for bad care homes - but you must complain

One cheer for the Competition and Markets Authority's action this week over a care homes group imposing unexpected and unreasonable post-death fees. But it is only one cheer because thousands of vulnerable consumers are currently getting a raw deal in care homes for whom this week’s announcement will make no difference whatsoever.

Care home residents have all the same rights as other consumers. If they do not receive the service they pay for – or even a ‘reasonable service’ – they would be eligible for discounts or even a refund under consumer law. But this rarely, if ever, happens because, quite simply, most care home residents are not in a position to take legal action.

With more than 3,000 care homes in England, out of 16,000, currently considered to be offering care below the expected level by the Care Quality Commission, there are tens of thousands of 'consumers' receiving a less than reasonable service. Effective consumer protection would have a devastating impact on the industry. More than 2,000 care homes have never received a positive report – and yet continue to charge fees of as much as £1,600 a week. Many poor homes, are ‘unsafe’ and nearly 300 hundred are ‘Inadequate’.

Consumer law is clear on the rights of care home residents. But, and it is a very big but, it is up to the residents themselves to take action – or their representatives. It is believed the CMA has no plans to take action on behalf of such very vulnerable consumers, despite the documented proof of poor and even bad care. The authority does not have powers to act in individual cases, but it could look an industry-wide problem. So problems on a postcard to the CMA.

There is no doubt that many many older and vulnerable people are living in homes which fail to offer the 'reasonable service' required by consumer law. Tales abound of residents being neglected, abused and starved. A week rarely passes when a report from the CQC emerges, detailing how older and vulnerable people have been left unbathed for weeks or ignored or dressed in filthy clothes and treated in a degrading fashion.

Yet these ‘consumers’ are expected to pay for the privilege of this ‘care’. And it is not just a question of lack of funds. Many poor homes are actually owned by leading homes groups. Only this week, a home belonging to the exclusive operator, Barchester, received an appalling report and an ‘Inadequate’ rating.


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