Audrey Hammond was being charged £35,000 a month by a group of women, many of whom had no experience in care and no qualifications as careworkers.  

 

Photograph posed by model.

The first shock is that anyone could have set out to exploit someone so clearly vulnerable. Even when we have become sadly used to tales of neglect, abuse and fraud, the sheer brazenness of this crime still surprises. One of the women even ran a burger business from the front drive of Mrs Hammond’s Grade II listed home. Another worked as an erotic model and on one occasion arrived for her shift still wearing a mini skirt and high heels. As Prosecutor Stephen Wood told the court: ‘These defendants … breached the trust reposed in them to simply milk from that lady over half a million pounds by grossly over-claiming for work. Mrs Hammond was subjected to a cruel and heartless fraud.’

The second shock is that when a reputable agency took over Mrs Hammond’s care, it was reported in court that she was still paying around £20,000 a month. That figure sounds astonishing yet it is just about conceivable for someone needing 24-hour, round the clock care and who chooses to be at home rather than in a residential care home. And even if the figure has been mis-reported or exaggerated, it is certainly possible to spend huge sums of money on home care.

Bought privately, the average cost of home care is around £15.50 an hour. Full-time care at home could easily cost upwards of £30,000a year. With round-the-clock care, spending upwards of £60,000a year or more is possible.

And that brings us to the third shock if you have no previous experience of our social care system: that someone could need to spend that kind of money but receive little or no help with the cost. For unlike healthcare, which is provided free by the NHS, social care – help with washing, dressing, eating – is funded by your local council and is only available without charge if you can clear two large barriers. The first barrier is need. Councils have to be convinced that an individual’s care needs are a serious risk to their health or independence before they’ll consider helping. Clear that barrier and you have to leap an even higher one - finances. Only those with savings of less than £23,250 are likely to receive any financial help with paying for home care. The criteria is even stricter when it comes to help with care home fees – here, the value of a person’s house may well count towards that £23,250 figure.

Understanding the 'care cap'

From April 2016 changes in the law mean that a ‘cap’ on care costs aimed at limiting the amount people pay for their care in old age will be introduced. This is currently proposed to be £72,000. According to the Government, the system will become more generous for those in a care home. They may receive some financial support if they have less than £118,000 in assets (though again normally including the value of their house), but will only increase slightly from the current £23,250 for those receiving care in their own homes. However the reality is many will not actually reach the cap as things such as accommodation and living costs in a care home are not taken into account.

How much of this is currently understood by older people, their families and carers? In most cases, very little. Some sadly joke that the reason the government talks of a care ‘cap’ is because the subject of social care funding goes over most people’s heads. It is fiendishly complex and until help is needed most people stay clear of attempting to understand the subject.

Yet it is important that they do. People need to fully understand their entitlement to support from their council because, in a cash-starved system, they may not always get the right answer the first time they ask. They may also need financial advice if – as most people do – they find they are required to pay some or all of that cost themselves. There are some financial options, like immediate needs annuities and lifetime mortgages but it’s essential people are properly advised by an Independent Financial Adviser who has a qualification in long-term care funding. Finally and most obviously perhaps, they need good advice about choosing a care agency or care home. That way they will at least avoid falling into the hands of fraudsters as, tragically, did Mrs Hammond.

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