Record numbers sell home to fund care

Figures for last year show that 45,000 people in care homes had to sell their houses to pay the fees a rise of 12 per cent in five years.

Charities described the situation as "a national disgrace", and called for an urgent overhaul of a system which penalises hard-working people who spent a lifetime paying for their houses.

And experts gave warning that the reliance on house sales to pay for care meant the current housing market crash was leaving thousands of families in difficulty.

Last year, almost 40 per cent of care home residents paid all their own bills, according to figures from the industry experts Laing and Buisson. Analysis by the House of Commons library reveals that of those 146,000 people, at least 45,000 funded their care by selling their homes a rise of 5,000 since 2003.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, who uncovered the figures, criticised the "cruel and pernicious system which means too many people have to give up everything they worked for".

"It needs urgent reform but this Government has dithered and delayed. It is unforgivable that in 12 years in power, next to nothing has been done to address this," he said.

Weekly care home fees cost an average of 627 or 32,600 a year for those who receive nursing care and 445 a week (23,140 a year) for those who do not. Under the current means-testing system in England, anyone with assets of more than 22,500 has to pay in full for their care. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have similar thresholds. However, in Scotland a weekly allowance for "personal" care is paid for by the Scottish Executive, alleviating some of the financial strain.

Gordon Lishman, the director general of Age Concern branded the care system "a national disgrace," and accused the Government of appearing slow to do anything to fix it. Older people frequently tell us they feel like they are being penalised for working hard and saving for their retirement if they are forced to sell their homes to pay for care," he said.

Stephen Burke, the chief executive of the charity Counsel and Care, called for an overhaul of the system."Too many families are being left to suffer the anguish of how to pay care bills, especially those forced to sell their loved ones' homes. This has to stop". The charity said many pensioners were being forced to take out loans, or sell their homes at low prices thereby restricting the quality of care home they could afford. Neil Hunt, the chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, said families struggling to sell properties to pay for care were in "what seems like an impossible position".

However, the scheme is not mandatory. One in five local authorities made no such offers in 2007-8, while others gave them to a handful of families. Experts gave warning that the economic climate is likely to make councils restrict their use even further because of the delays they face in recouping the money once houses go on sale. Alex Edmans, a care home adviser for Saga, said: "Not only is it much harder at present to sell a property but, due to budget limitations, local authorities are also now more reluctant to offer the deferred payment scheme."

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