The journey a care seeker takes to find and move into a care home can be a long one and some of the steps along the way are often confusing.
Before going into a care home, care seekers will need to sign a care home contract, which can be confusing for first-time care seekers.
However, with this handy guide to care home contracts, Lottie aims to make the process simpler and easier.
So, read on to learn all about why contracts are necessary, what they might contain and much more…
A care home contract is a written agreement between the person paying the care home fees and the care home provider.
If you are paying for your fees, the contract will be between you and the care home; whereas if you are using local authority funding, the contract will be between the local authority and the care home.
If someone else is helping you to fund your care, for example through a top-up fee, there will need to be two separate contracts.
Care home contracts set out the type of care the person will receive, the costs of care and other important details such as notice periods and cancellation policies.
Once signed, a care home contract is a legally binding document so it's vital that you understand everything in it before signing.
Contracts are needed to ensure that both parties are protected in the agreement and that the correct procedures are followed in the event of a change in the care seeker’s or home’s circumstances.
If for any reason the care home resident or the care home are unhappy or have a complaint, the care home contract is the best place to start to examine the home’s terms and conditions, in order to decide whether the complaint is valid and justified.
Care homes are free to include the terms and conditions of their choosing, but the law states that these terms must not be unfair.
Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) guidance states that care homes must ensure that self-funding residents are given a copy of the home’s standard contracts, including any terms and conditions and are also given enough time to read and understand them before agreeing to the contract.
Contracts should be written in clear and simple language so they are easy to understand. They should be free of complicated legal jargon or any ambiguous terms that could potentially cause confusion. Important information should be explained in full upfront and not hidden away in the small print.
A good care home contract should include the following:
A care home contract should outline the details of any trial period, during which either the care home resident or the home itself can terminate the contract at short notice.
The contract will contain full details of all fees to pay while at the cae home and who will be responsible for payment.
This includes care costs and any additional charges for extra services, for example, meals, toiletries, hairdressing or visits from health specialists.
The fees section will also provide information on the notice period for any price increases.
Some care homes ask for an advance payment or deposit to secure a place in the home. A good contract should clearly detail the amount needed for the deposit, when you need to pay it and what happens if you change your mind before moving in.
The contract should also detail the level of care and support you will receive and what will happen in the event that your care needs change.
All contracts will clearly explain the services provided at the care home, from basic care services to administering medication, treatments and visits from health experts.
Contracts should outline the type of accommodation at the home; for example whether the room is single or double, shared or single, whether the room has ensuite facilities, whether residents can decorate their own rooms and more.
Care homes need to have insurance policies in place, but the contract will explain what is and isn’t included as part of the care home’s insurance policy.
For example, you may be allowed to bring your own furniture to furnish your room, but the care home may not provide insurance for personal items.
There may be times when a care home resident needs to leave the home temporarily; such as a short hospital stay or a holiday.
The contract will advise on what happens during this period.You may be able to keep your room for a number of weeks, and the care home might offer you a discount.
A care home might on occasion need to change the terms of its service provision for legitimate reasons; for example, increasing care fees if a resident’s care needs change significantly, or changing the range of services it provides.
However, residents should be given sufficient notice for any changes and levels of care should not fall below minimum standards set by care regulators.
If a resident is away from the home for an extended period, for example during a stay in hospital, the care home contract should make it clear what fees are payable during that time. Some care homes charge a lower rate if a resident is away, but this isn’t always the case.
There are several reasons why someone might wish to cancel their contract and leave; including changes to financial circumstances, family circumstances, or their health.
A good care home contract should clearly explain a resident’s rights to cancel and how to cancel their contact if they so wish. Both parties should be able to cancel the contract with sufficient notice.
A care home resident or the care home may need to terminate a contract in special circumstances. The contract will explain when a contract may need to be terminated and what to do.
Contracts need to outline what happens in the event of a resident’s death, including the remainder of their care home fees (if applicable).
After a resident has died, care home guidance states that fees should only be charged for up to three days, with a ‘backstop’ period of ten days or less. Fees should stop once loved ones have cleared the resident’s room of possessions.
Finally, the contract should include information on the home’s complaints procedure and how to raise a formal complaint if you are not happy with the service provided.
The complaints procedure should be easy to find and the home should not retaliate when a complaint is made, or obstruct the progress of the complaint.
Under consumer law, all care home contracts must be written and negotiated in a fair and open way. If a term in a contract is unfair, then it won’t be valid or legally enforceable.
Examples of terms that might be deemed unfair include:
You can find plenty of information about your consumer rights and protections online.
The process of signing up to a care home is understandably overwhelming for many. To help, below is a helpful list of key questions to ask before you sign your contract.
As a care home resident, your rights are protected under UK consumer law. You have consumer rights regardless of how you pay for your care home; whether it’s self-funded, or whether some or all of the costs are paid for by the local authority, Health and Social Care Trust or the NHS.
Care home residents’ and their families’ rights are protected under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Consumer law states that care providers must treat residents fairly, act with reasonable care and skill when providing their service, and deal with complaints in an open and timely manner.
Care providers need to abide by strict regulations relating to safety and standards of care. These standards are monitored by the UK’s four independent care regulators, which also arrange regular inspections of all care homes:
Occasionally you may find that there are problems with your contract - and you might discover these problems either before or after you have signed it. Read on for information on what to do in each situation.
Before you sign anything, it’s really important that you request a copy of the contract and read it thoroughly - or ask someone else to if you are not able to yourself.
For example, if you have Power of Attorney for a loved one, you might be required to sign the contract for them.
Remember, you have every right to ask the care provider to explain any clauses you don’t understand - as well as amend a term if you aren’t happy.
If you’re still unsure about what any part of the contract means, we recommend seeking legal advice before you sign. If you have any doubts at all, don’t sign it.
If you notice a problem after you’ve already signed, you can challenge that term in the contract. Unfair terms are not legally binding, so don’t let anyone pressure you into agreeing to terms that you are not happy with; from unreasonable fees to cancellation terms.
Once you’ve spotted a problem, the first thing to do is to get legal advice. A legal professional can look over your contract and decide whether a term is unfair or not.
They will then recommend your next step; whether that’s lodging a formal complaint against the care home, or by taking legal action. The below are good sources to use for legal help:
When it comes to reporting unfair terms, you can either use your local Trading Standards department, who deal with day-to-day consumer law, or the Competition and Markets Authority, or CMA, who deal with market-wide consumer problems.
Both organisations can enforce consumer protection laws and prevent care homes from carrying out unfair terms in a care home contract.
If you have raised an official complaint to your care home provider and aren’t satisfied with their response, you can go to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) or the Care Inspectorate in Wales, or the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) with your case. You may also be able to ask your local authority or NHS commissioning bodies for assistance. Find out more about how to complain about a care home here.
In 2018, the Competitions and Markets Authority published guidance for care home providers, setting out how care homes should approach contractual arrangements and the way they should treat their residents.
The guidance states that care homes must:
To the final point, carrying out services properly includes treating residents with respect and dignity, taking residents’ personal preferences into consideration, providing required support at mealtimes and taking care to ensure that all staff are properly trained.
We hope this article has given you all you need to know about care home contracts and what they should contain. Remember to take your time reading any sort of contract and ask for help from family, friends or even legal professionals if you are not sure about anything. Care home contracts are there to help you, not cause problems - but be reassured that there are plenty of resources you can turn to for advice in the event of any issues.