Care Homes Win Landmark Council Fees Case

There is often too much of a tug-of-war between care homes and local authorities who have to agree the standard fees which are payable for council funded residents. Obviously, the current climate of public sector austerity can only aggravate this situation. A typical example has recently been provided by Devon County Council ( DCC ) which has frozen fees for the 2011/12 financial year for the second year running. Naturally, care homes within the county have been suffering the same rate of cost inflation as everybody else so it comes as no surprise that a group of five care homes decided to challenge the DCC's high-handed action by seeking a judicial review.

The result was a ruling in favour of the care home providers on the basis that there had not been a sufficient consultative process to agree fee levels and the DCC was ordered to pay them £40,000 within 21 days as the first step towards refunding 50 % of the claimants' costs. Lawyers who specialise in this field reckon that the DCC acted unlawfully in failing to enter into a dialogue with providers about the way care home fees are set. Although there was clearly some reluctance on the part of the care providers to take the matter as far as to a court case, their action was finally vindicated by the judgement which represented an important victory for a group who were brave enough to put their heads above the parapet and take legal action to try to maintain the quality of care they are able to provide to vulnerable residents. It confirmed that the fees setting process should in future be a two-way dialogue.

The Devon judgement follows similar outcomes in Pembrokeshire and Leicestershire and demonstrates once again that local authorities can be held accountable for unlawful practices. This trend means that the weight of argument over fees is swinging back in favour of the care home providers who accommodate council funded residents and should help them to claw back some of the ground lost as the result of cost inflation over the last year or two.

By: Brendan Wilde