Care home residents who have set aside money over the years are facing exorbitant hikes in residential fees if Shetland Charitable Trust goes ahead with plans to withdraw a subsidy amid fears it could lose its charitable status by paying money to pensioners.
Twenty-five residents in care homes assessed as being able to pay for their own care can expect to stump up a minimum of £1,132 a week – depending on which home they live in – when the changes are brought into force on 1st April.
The worst-off will be any self-sustaining residents with assets of over £22,500 in the Nordalea centre in Unst. They will be charged £1,866 every week for their care, almost £100,000 a year, although council officials refused to say whether there were any residents in Nordalea in that category because of confidentiality.
Although care home charges are set by Shetland Islands Council, an “equalisation of charges” scheme operated by the charitable trust means the most any care home resident pays is currently £485 a week. A reduced rate is available for those with assets between £13,750 and £22,500. Those with assets under £13,750 pay nothing.
However trustees agreed to ditch the subsidy for residents who pay for their own care when they met in December. They feared the trust may be hauled up before the charities regulator OSCR if it was seen to be providing care for people who are already well off.
The move was not universally popular, however. Trustee Gussie Angus said the decision was “taken in haste” and without a “full understanding of its implications”.
The new charges were exposed this week by Lerwick resident Stella Robertson, who said she would be forced to remove her 97-year-old mother, May Fair, from Taing House if the new fee system is introduced.
Suffering from dementia, Mrs Fair is frail and in need of constant care. However because she still owns her own house in Burgh Road she is currently charged the £485 weekly fee.
The axing of the subsidy threatens to push her charges up to £1,162 a week – almost £60,500 for the year – from the start of the new financial year.
Mrs Robertson learned of the move in a letter sent “out of the blue” by the trust between Christmas and New Year.
She said the decision, agreed by trustees at a charitable trust meeting last month, victimised older people who had saved up for their and their children’s future.
“I feel that the cost is extortionate – that people who have saved up all their lives to provide for their care and to provide for their old age are being victimised.
“I’m thinking of people younger than my mother who don’t have dementia and who suddenly receive that letter. What are they going to do, other than panic?
“How many people in Shetland have bought their own council houses? They might be thinking they’ll be able to leave it to their children, but if they go into care they can forget that.”
Mrs Fair moved into Taing House last October after becoming too frail and forgetful to stay in her own home.
The move to Taing House was intended to be permanent, but Mrs Robertson is already making preparations to have her mother removed from the home and placed back in her own house with round-the-clock care.
“It’s going to make life very difficult. It’s going to be very restrictive because my mother needs somebody there at night. She needs 24-hour care,” said Mrs Robertson.
“I think the rate is extortionate. Even at £1,100 a week it works out at something like £60,000 a year. How many people anywhere in Shetland even earn £60,000 before tax let alone after tax?”
“My mother will actually be paying £1,162 a week. Thank God she’s not in Nordalea – she’d be paying £1,866 a week if she was.”
Any self-financing residents in Viewforth House will have to pay £1,239 a week come the new financial year. Residents in Isleshavn in Mid Yell will have to cough up £1,200
a week, while those in Edward Thomason House will have to stump up £1,344 for seven days worth of care.
Mrs Robertson, a retired maths teacher, is being supported by her husband, retired physics teacher Bert.
He said the trust was taking a “short-sighted” view of its future financing because removing the financial help would soon leave residents with no capital at all.
“If you are taking £485 per week from a person and they have capital to cover that it’s fine, but if you double up the payment the money is not going to last,” he said.
“They are going to be reduced to non-self-financing in a very short time.”
He questioned where the council was “getting its figures from”, adding it was coming up with “extremely high figures” to run any place.
“I wouldn’t say it’s not being costed properly, but those costs seem to be extremely high,” he said, adding residents who normally stay in their own homes could go into a home for respite care at just £195 for the week.
The couple have taken their case to Mr Angus, who opposed the proposal when it came up before the trust last month.
Speaking to The Shetland Times, Mr Angus said: “A new broom has come in and charitable trust management say this is not charitable – spending money on folk who have money already.
“But it completely ignores the fact that we wouldn’t have this structure if we hadn’t had the charitable trust in the first place. I don’t see any way OSCR could find any fault with what we’re doing because caring for elderly folk is charitable.”
In a tacit admission care homes could lose out, he said potential residents would have full knowledge of the charges up-front, and could make an informed decision on whether they move into a care home or not.
Those already in the homes, he said, will not be so lucky.
“For existing residents there is no choice in this. Future residents will at least have the choice.
“I’m fully expecting we will have to review this at the next charitable trust [meeting]. It’s a decision which has been taken in haste and without fully examining the implications.”
He added the move would probably result in mounting disquiet over trust-funded projects many may feel less important than care homes, such as the new music and cinema venue where operating costs are being provided for the first year.
“We’re going to shoot ourselves in the foot, because folk are going to be targeting things like Mareel. That’s what folk will say and they’ll be quite right. I’ll certainly be attempting to get this reconsidered.”
The council’s executive director for education and social care, Hazel Sutherland, said the SIC had to follow strict guidelines when setting charges for care home residents.
“The method by which we calculate the charges is laid down by legislation. The council sets the charges based on the full cost of care,” she said.
She added a report on the charges was being prepared by head of community care Christine Ferguson, which is due to be presented to members of the services committee on 4th February, and urged anyone concerned about the changes to contact the council.
She declined to provide details of a new scale of charges before the report goes before councillors.
In a statement trust chairman Bill Manson said trustees were “required to look at all their activities to ensure they comply with the current financial and regulatory framework”.
“Trustees decided on 10th December to discontinue the subsidy presently paid to those residents in care homes who have been assessed as having the means to pay for their own care,” he said.
“This decision brings Shetland into line with the rest of Scotland. It affects some 25 residents in care homes throughout Shetland. This will have no effect on the level of care experienced by the residents.”
He added trustees were committed to continuing to support a rural care model which allows the SIC to provide care in small units distributed throughout the islands.
“The trust continues to support the elderly, with some 40 per cent of their budget going directly to projects or schemes which support the elderly. This totalled some £3.9 million in 2009/10.”