Council wins dispute over fees at county care homes

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NORTHUMBERLAND County Council have won a long running dispute over fees with care home owners at the High Court.

Following a hearing in January, High Court Judge Justice Supperstone found that the council consulted care home owners properly, and made a reasonable decision about the fees they would offer, on the basis of officers’ expert assessment of the market, and that they had met the requirements of Government guidance.

The court also heard that even if the care home owners had been correct in thinking the guidance told councils to collect detailed information about care home budgets, the council had given good reasons for setting fees in a different way, and would have had a right to do so.

Ian Lindley, executive member for adult care and wellbeing, said after the hearing: “I am pleased that the judge has confirmed that it is for local authorities not the courts to make difficult decisions about priorities.

“In troubled financial times, we still need to make sure there is a range of services to meet everyone’s needs, including care homes, but we decided to set the fees for care homes at levels which would enable us to use as much as possible of our limited funding to support people to stay living independently in their own homes.”

Corporate director of adult services and housing for the local authority, Daljit Lally, added: “Public sector austerity has meant hard decisions for everyone who depends on the public sector for funding.

“The view of the trade association Care North East Northumberland appeared to be that court cases in other areas gave them a legal right to have fees set in the way they preferred, and they wouldn’t discuss other options.

“There have been legal challenges over fees in a number of areas of the north east and elsewhere.

“The judge in our case has clarified the law in some helpful ways, and I hope that this will help to reduce the number of legal disputes in future.

“It was never our choice to end up in court.

“It is important to us to have constructive working relationships with care home providers, who offer a vital service to very vulnerable older people, and we hope that we will now be able to put behind us a dispute which has overshadowed our continuing positive relationship with care homes in general.”