Council slammed for ‘paltry’ increase in care fees
Richard Evans, local democracy reporter
A social care champion has accused Denbighshire County Council of trying to “defend the indefensible” over care home fees, labelling a recent increase as “paltry”.
Care Forum Wales (CFW) says Denbighshire’s lead member for health and social care, Cllr Elen Heaton, was in denial when she recently justified the authority’s care home rates.
CFW chair Mario Kreft pointed to a review in Gwynedd that resulted in fee increases of up to 25 per cent or £126 a week per person.
Mr Kreft said, by comparison, Denbighshire had gone through the motions and come up with a “paltry” increase of £4.61 a week, claiming this was an insult to vulnerable elderly people in care.
Mr Kreft is concerned fees in Denbighshire are lagging behind Gwynedd and Anglesey county councils who also announced increases of up to 25 per cent after taking a second look at what they were paying.
Until then all six local authorities had operated in what Mr Kreft described as a “fee-fixing cartel”, keeping rates low.
In breaking away from the North Wales Regional Care Fees Group, both the local authorities in Gwynedd and Anglesey said it was important fees reflected the true cost of providing care.
Now, Wrexham and Conwy county councils are also conducting their own reviews, but Flintshire and Denbighshire are refusing to budge.
Denbighshire now pay around £120 a week less per person for nursing care for people with dementia than the rate in Gwynedd.
Care Forum Wales says this equates to a difference of £6,272 per person.
That means funding for a care home with 40 residents in Denbighshire would be £250,000 less than a home with the same number of beds in Gwynedd.
Care Forum Wales say it amounts to a “stealth tax” on hard-pressed, hard-working families who have to make up the difference as care homes struggle to make ends meet.
After being asked why at their last meeting Denbighshire Council’s Cabinet had been banned from debating the issue of fees, Cllr Heaton said they had already conducted an “urgent review”.
Cllr Heaton then said a further decision had been taken in June 2022 and additional uplifts to fees had been made.
But Mr Kreft has hit back at Denbighshire saying: “If she (Cllr Heaton) thinks that the paltry and insulting increase of £4.61 is sufficient, she is living in cloud cuckoo land.
“In fairness, the likes of Gwynedd and Anglesey have made a really creditable attempt to conduct a more realistic address and have come up with increases that are much closer to reflecting the real cost of providing care.
“They are trying to defend the indefensible, but unfortunately, for them, they have no place to hide.
“This issue was laid bare once and for all by Merthyr Council a couple of months ago when councillors were given legal advice that it was unlawful not to pay fees that reflected the legitimate current and future costs of providing care, as well as the factors affecting those costs.
“They were warned the fees set needed to be adequate to enable providers to meet the specifications set by the commissioners, together with regulatory requirements.
“As a result, members in Merthyr voted for increases of up to 22 per cent, and now we’ve seen two councils in North Wales, Gwynedd and Anglesey, following suit with increases of up to 25 per cent.
“We have compiled a table that has highlighted the grossly unfair post code lottery of fees in Wales, with massive discrepancies between the top of the bottom – up to £11,000 per person, per year in some places
“Denbighshire Council are clearly upset about being named and shamed – but it’s their own fault.
“After years of campaigning for fair fees, the tide is turning, and the momentum is heading in one direction, so this has come as a reality check for Denbighshire
“Unfortunately, the council is trying to keep the true facts hidden from the good people of Denbighshire
“It’s about time Cllr Heaton was honest and upfront with the electorate about why they do not properly value the care provided for the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Mr Kreft continued: “Back in the 1990s Care Forum Wales campaigned for the introduction of national standards of care to be overseen by a national inspectorate, and that came about 22 years ago.
“We’re now about to see a new rating system introduced for social care with Care Inspectorate Wales applying the same criteria in different parts of Wales.
“It won’t take into account that a home Bala receives £250,000 more than a home in Denbighshire, which is grossly unfair.
“Some local authorities – notably Torfaen, Merthyr, Gwynedd and Anglesey – are really stepping up to the plate and should be applauded, but it’s clear that there are others who cannot be trusted to do the right thing.
“I am urging the Labour leadership at Denbighshire to follow the example of their Labour colleagues in doing the right thing by vulnerable, older people.
“Similarly, both Gwynedd and Anglesey councils are run by Plaid Cymru, so I am surprised that their members who are helping to run Denbighshire are doing the direct opposite.
“This is why, as a matter of urgency, we need a complete overhaul of the system so that we have a national framework to ensure fair minimum fee levels.”
He added: “Without fair fees, the only way that care homes can remain viable is by charging top of fees so that they can meet those additional costs.
“Inevitably, those councillors are placing the burden on honest, hard-working families and it all adds up to a stealth tax on them at a time when the cost of living is going through the roof.”
Cllr Elen Heaton, lead member for health and social care, said: “The council carried out a consultation on increased fees for 2022/23 with our providers.
“Following important feedback given by the providers, we launched a further review of the fees,” she said.
“As a result, a decision was taken in June 2022 to recognise this current challenge and therefore additional uplifts to fees were made.
“For residential and nursing care home fees and specialist care home fees, a decision was taken to increase the consumer prices index (CPI) from the 3.1 percent mark in September 2021 to seven percent in March 2022, reflecting these inflating costs.
“For domiciliary care, a decision was taken to apply an additional 50p rate to all hour-long calls, which is half the £1 an hour that providers have been supplemented by Welsh Government for the whole of 2021/22
“We made this decision in light of fuel cost increases impacting domiciliary care, groceries, utilities, and insurance cost increases affecting care homes, acknowledging the reliance some have placed on the Welsh Government’s temporary COVID-19 financial uplift support, which has now ended and also the cost of further recruitment and retention challenges.”
She added: “The council also increased the cost of the half-hour calls by 50p in recognition of the provider feedback and reduced productive time between the shorter calls. This increase was backdated to the start of April.”
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