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No need for elderly to sell home to pay care bill

Elderly people will no longer be forced to sell their homes to pay for care under government proposals to be unveiled next week.

Martin Beckford, Daily Telegraph

Elderly people will no longer be forced to sell their homes to pay for care under government proposals to be unveiled next week.

Ministers have drawn up a range of measures that would allow middle-class pensioners to keep their property. Options could include compulsory insurance paid throughout a career, or a one-off payment of around £12,000 either at retirement or death.

They are contained in a long-awaited Green Paper discussion document intended to tackle the spiralling cost of care for an ageing population.

The Government is believed to favour proposals that would stop older people having to sell up because it is widely seen as the most unfair aspect of the complex and under-funded social care system.

A Whitehall source said: “There will be one or more options under which people will not have to sell their own homes.”

However, the Conservatives accused the Government of dithering on the issue since coming to power in 1997 and said the timing of the proposals, with an election looming next year, meant they were unlikely to become law.

Currently, health care is provided free by the NHS but adults must undergo a means test if they move into a nursing home for long-term care. Those with more than £22,250 in assets - almost 40 per cent of care home residents - must pay their own way. Fees average £627 a week.

As a result, many elderly people are forced to sell their homes or raid savings intended for their children’s inheritance. Industry experts say 45,000 people had to sell property in 2008 to pay for care home accommodation.

Councils can also restrict home help only to residents with the most critical needs, creating a “postcode lottery” in which thousands of people in England who cannot perform tasks such as washing or dressing themselves receive no support.

As people live longer, the cost of providing care for the elderly will increase. A £6 billion funding gap is predicted within 20 years. It is to fill this black hole and make the system fairer that the Department of Health will propose radical reforms in the Green Paper expected on Tuesday.

As well as the insurance and inheritance levy proposals, the Government may suggest a “co-payment” model under which it funds some care for everyone, but top-up payments from the wealthiest subsidise the least well-off.

The Green Paper will also suggest new measures to allow the elderly to remain independent and an extension of schemes allowing pensioners and disabled people to choose how their care is provided.

“At the moment people have to pay huge amounts of their savings or sell their homes and they get very angry about that. They feel robbed,” said the source.

“Of all the issues, that’s the one we hear the loudest. But if you’re 25 you don’t want to pay more tax - that’s the tension.”

Consultation will continue until the end of October, giving the care services minister, Phil Hope, little time to draw up legislation before a general election that must be held by June.

Campaigners welcomed plans to overhaul the system, but said short-term measures were desperately needed and could be implemented quickly.

These could include improving advice about financing care, and encouraging more councils to defer payment, where the cost of a care home is paid from a resident’s estate after their death.

Stephen Burke, the chief executive of the charity Counsel and Care, said: “It would be good news if people weren’t forced to sell their homes to pay for care but the question is how they are going to make that possible.”

The Conservatives pointed out that Tony Blair had told the Labour Party conference in 1997 that he did not want children brought up in a country “where the only way pensioners can get long-term care is by selling their home”.

Stephen O’Brien, the shadow health minister, said that with a White Paper unlikely before next year, “it looks like, once again, they are kicking this issue into the long grass.”

July 2010