Care Guides > A Guide to Care Home Contracts

A Guide to Care Home Contracts

5/13/2022

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…

What is a Care Home Contract

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.

A person signing a care home contract

Why They Are Needed

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.

What Should Be In the Contract & Points to Consider

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:

Trial Period

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.

Fees

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.

Advance Payments and Deposits

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.

Level of Care

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.

Services Provided

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.

An elderly lady signing a care home contract

Accommodation

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.

Insurance

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.

Absence

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.

Changing Terms of Service Provision

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.

Non-occupancy

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.

Leaving the Care Home

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.

Contract Termination

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.

Resident Death

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.

Complaints

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.

Unfair Terms

An elderly lady looking upset

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:

  • Excessive cancellation fees
  • Hidden charges in the small print
  • Lack of transparency around how fees are calculated or when they might change
  • Where the service provider has more rights than the care seeker, for example the home can cancel a contract whenever it wants but residents are tied in for a set period
  • Not letting residents cancel the contract within a specified time period
  • If a resident does cancel the contract, allowing the care home to keep the whole deposit
  • Making a resident pay fees in full if they cancel a contract
  • Increasing fees without notice or explanation
  • Leaving residents with no choice but to use expensive in-house services
  • Charging residents for in-house services when they aren’t using them
  • Automatically terminating the contract if the resident isn’t in their room for a certain period of time
  • Not allowing residents’ loved ones enough time to clear their room after they have passed away
  • Limiting or removing the care home’s liability in situations where it may not have fulfilled its duty of care
  • Attempts to limit legal rights

You can find plenty of information about your consumer rights and protections online.

Questions to Ask

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.

Fees, Deposits and Advance Payments

  • Will I need to pay a deposit or an advance payment?
  • What happens if I change my mind about moving in? Will I get my deposit back?
  • If I do move in, will I get my deposit back? Will it be taken off my fees?
  • How much will I have to pay?
  • When will the fees be due? Are they paid weekly or monthly?
  • What do the fees include/exclude?
  • How often are fees reviewed and how much notice is given for any increases?
  • Are there any charges for additional services?
  • How are NHS-funded Nursing Care payments accounted for in fees? (If using NHS funding)
  • How long will fees be charged for in the event of a resident’s death?

Non-occupancy

  • What is the home’s policy for non-occupancy?
  • How long does a resident need to be absent before fees apply?
  • Is there a limit on how long a resident can be absent before it affects their contract?

Leaving the home or ending the contract

  • Is there a minimum period residents are tied into the contract?
  • How much notice needs to be given before leaving?
  • If residents leave the care home, are they entitled to a pro-rata refund of any fees already paid?
  • What happens to the deposit if the contract is terminated?
  • How much notice does the home need to give if they want a resident to leave?
  • After a resident’s death, how much time does their next of kin have to clear their room?

Your Consumer Rights

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:

  • The Care Quality Commission (England)
  • The Care Inspectorate (Scotland)
  • Care Inspectorate Wales (Wales)
  • The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (Northern Ireland)

Dealing With Contract Problems

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've Signed

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.

After You've Signed

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.

Care Home Contracts Guidance

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:

  • Treat care home residents and their representatives fairly - before and after moving in
  • Ensure that care home contracts are fair
  • Ensure that all residents have a copy of their contract and T&Cs
  • Clearly highlight any important T&Cs so that there are no surprises
  • Carry out services with the required level of skill and care

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.

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