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Care and the Community: The Elderly, Funding and Fretting

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Hollywood and television commercials present countless images of old age as a time when contented, silver-haired individuals kick back after a life of work and raising families. The hours become filled with comfortable, pension-funded breaks in sunny climates, tending to the garden and looking after adorable grandchildren.

The reality, however, is often very different and why, in truth, many people are a little scared of growing old.

More than adding a wrinkle or two and losing the youthful spring in our step, there is the thought that perhaps we might need someone to look after us should our physical decline be too much for us to manage alone.

Our concerns are not only for ourselves. We see senior family members suffering ill health and want the reassurance of knowing that others will be there to help them if we can't do it ourselves.

Such worries are made worse by a slew of recent headlines about ongoing deliberations between politicians, experts and interest groups over the shape of elderly care provision in the UK.

A year ago, though, things seemed more upbeat. The economist Andrew Dilnot produced a report for the government following a lengthy review of elderly care. He recommended that the current threshold set for any capital which someone has - and above which they are required to contribute to the cost of their own care - should be raised from the current figure of £23,250 to £100,000.

Dilnot's suggestions received widespread support. Even the notion of a £35,000 cap on the amount that any one of us might have to pay for our care was warmly endorsed by charities such as Age UK and Independent Age which represent the older members of society and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), the officials from whose budgets any additional costs would have to be met.

Those costs appear to have torpedoed any immediate prospects of Dilnot's proposals being enshrined in law. With the bill for implementing them estimated at £1.7 billion, it's possible that a White Paper on care provision which is scheduled to be published by the Department of Health before Parliament adjourns for its Summer holidays will not go as far as Dilnot and others want.

That continued uncertainty has fuelled a rise in the number of people approaching myself and my colleagues at Pannone, worried that they may have to sell their home in order to pay for their care.

Squeezed local authority finances are, according to some, leading them to be more discriminating about who does and does not have care paid for. A number of councils have attempted to argue that individuals were deliberately trying to avoid having to pay for their care by transferring assets, such as their home, to a relative in order to bring themselves beneath the £23,250 threshold.

Charities have said that people confronted with a council demand for payment and unable to afford the costs associated with contesting it have simply accepted the authority's request for them to cough up.

Not all authorities are so severe. Enquiries by The Independent newspaper established that Staffordshire has reorganised itself into England's largest joint NHS
and local authority trust in order to beef up its care and advise people who might need it how best to organise their affairs in advance of possibly needing to go into a home.

We might think that the ability to manage our paperwork is another skill which deteriorates as the years pass by. That's why some people have turned to what have been described as an "unscrupulous minority of so-called advisors" offering to help them avoid liability for care home fees.

There is a saying, however, that what appears too good to be true usually is. As Michael Young, the chairman of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), has warned, the arrangements such advisors promote may well fail to do what they suggest they can.If all goes wrong and councils believe someone has deliberately avoided paying for care, they can take legal action to recover what they feel they're due.

Even transferring property to a child in order to prevent it being sold to meet the costs of care is no absolute solution. We have seen cases in which families fall out and children's marriages fall apart, meaning that the property needs to be sold anyway as part of a divorce settlement.

For those in or approaching old age and unsure as to what the future holds, the best advice is always to take advice from those reputable invididuals or organisations who have experience in dealing with such matters.

Such counsel will not reverse the ageing process but it will doubtless provide some comfort amid the uncertainty about growing care bills when you're growing old.

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