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Some frail, older people in independent residential and nursing homes are parting with more of their savings than n...
Some frail, older people in independent residential and nursing homes are parting with more of their savings than necessary because of widespread confusion about the rules governing their contributions towards care costs.

Social security regulations treat any capital above£16,000 as available to pay for care, while savings between£10,000 and£16,000 are deemed to produce a notional income that is also taken into account. Yet research supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has revealed that some families of elderly residents have continued making payments even after their relative's savings have fallen below the threshold.

In-depth interviews found they had wrongly assumed that local authority officials, responsible for administering the means test, would notify them once the capital limits had been reached. Council staff also appeared to misunderstand the rules - especially when applied to elderly couples, where only one partner was living in long-term care.

The rules in these circumstances require the capital owned by husband and wife to be divided in two. Yet a number of spouses reported being told they must continue contributing from joint savings until the maximum amount for a single person had been reached.

Fay Wright of the Age Concern Institute of Gerontology, who interviewed more than 60 wives, husbands and adult children, said: 'Spouses whose partners enter residential or nursing homes seemed especially prone to experience unfair treatment. It appeared that liability to contribute towards their partner's care was being interpreted in different ways not only by different councils, but also by different social workers working for the same local authority.'

More than half a million older people live in long-term residential or nursing home care in the UK. In addition to looking at the financial consequences for spouses and adult children, the qualitative research examined the reasons that particular care homes had been chosen and the relationship between older people and their family caregivers after they had been admitted.

It found that:

- Most family caregivers had found the process of choosing a suitable care home intimidating and would have welcomed more advice and support. Many had only looked at the one home in which a placement was made.

- Many caregivers had assumed that the costs of long-term care would be met by the national health service. Some had only realised there would be a means test once their relative had been admitted.

- The rules about savings meant that around half the children of care home residents in the sample had, effectively, been disinherited. Around half in this situation had accepted the inevitable, but the rest remained angry.

- Relationships between older people and their children had often improved following their admission to a care home. Those between older people and their spouse caregivers had remained the same or deteriorated.

- The effect on carers of a frail, older person's admission to a care home, JRF Findings No 478, is available, free of charge, from JRF at The Homestead, 40 Water End, York YO3 6LP.

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