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How to pick a care home

Picking a care home is an important decision, so make sure you’re aware of all the pitfalls and small print to look out for.

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To ensure you pick a winner, check the small print

Choosing a care home for yourself or a loved one can be incredibly difficult. On top of finding somewhere that meets your care needs and is convenient and pleasant, you also have to worry about the cost and, sadly, whether or not you are being ripped off.

Earlier this month, the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) issued guidance to stamp out "unscrupulous" practices among the nation's care homes. From hidden fees to ludicrous contract clauses, there are plenty of tricks being used in the industry. "Some of society's most vulnerable are being taken for a ride by a few unscrupulous providers," care minister Caroline Dinenage told The Sun. "I'm determined to protect residents by stamping out unfair practices and secretive fees."

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So, how do you find the right care home at a fair price? The first step is to discuss what's important location, facilities, specialist care and make a list of essentials and desirables. To find care homes in the right area, you can search the databases provided by Which and the Care Quality Commission, as well as Carehome.co.uk. The latter also includes the latest care home inspection reports, so you can see how the ones near you have performed.

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Once you have a shortlist, contact them asking about their fees and their room availability. The new rules should mean that care homes have to be transparent from the start about how much residents will be charged, avoiding a situation where you get far into the process before discovering hidden fees.

Saying that, once you've picked a home, it's still vital to go through the contract in detail, as this is where a lot of the lunacy can be hidden. Look out for "up-front" fees it is common practice for homes to charge hefty administration fees to potential residents. Another thing to look out for is any strange eviction policies. For example, one contract gave the care home "the right to terminate a contract with 24 hours' notice for undefined detrimental behaviour'", notes Josie Clarke in the Daily Mirror. Finally, check if the home charges "fees after death". Though standard practice in the industry, the CMA guidelines say an acceptable limit should be equal to three days' fees. If you see something you are unsure about or aren't prepared to agree to, discuss it with the care home to see if the clause can be removed or changed.

And how to pay

Funding a long-term stay in a care home is a big financial commitment.

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Fees vary depending on location, but average around £600 a week for a care home, and more than £800 a week for a nursing home, according to charity Age UK. Councils generally have a standard rate ("usual cost") they're prepared to pay for care, which varies between councils.

If you have capital worth over £23,250, you must pay full fees. Between £14,250 and £23,250, the council will fund some of your care, and you must contribute the rest. If you have less than £14,250 this will be ignored, and the council will pay for your care (though it will take into account your eligible income this is income above £24.90 per week).

Note that if you own your house, its value might be counted as capital after 12 weeks if you move permanently into a care home (though exceptions apply, such as if certain family members are still living there). It might also be possible to defer payments, meaning costs will later come out of your estate or sale of your property.

It's also worth noting that some people, depending on their health situation, will be entitled to care funded entirely by the NHS, or to the nursing part of their fees being funded.

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