Care home operator Sunrise to pay out £2m for ‘unfair residents’ fees

May 14, 2018

Now just to be clear I am neither condoning nor condemning the upfront fees Sunrise charged their residents, and just as I climb on to my soap box I wonder how many other care providers would have charged the same if they thought they could have done so without the awful PR that came with them.

 

There are a few nationals carrying this story, so if you want to have a read of it in the press please do so after you’ve read my informative, insightful and perhaps somewhat intrusive article into fees, and perhaps a couple of other matters care related.

 

So let’s get to the crux of this story. The community fee, as Sunrise call it, was charged to help“….maintain the outstanding facilities and communal areas that our residents expect and enjoy,” chief executive Dr Natalie-Jane Macdonald told the BBC.  Seems like a fair cop to me. I reckon I’ve been in more care homes than your average chap, and I can tell you that keeping facilities and communal areas outstanding is no easy task, and certainly costs a lot of money. Charging a fee for keeping those facilities looking great is perfectly reasonable in my books, as long as the facilities are, and remain, outstanding, that is.

 

There is a bit of a red herring in the articles carrying this story though. Some of them talk about fees in the private sector being around 40% more than local authority rates. In my experience, that’s not only correct, but absolutely justified because in many cases the margin in terms of quality is probably about the same too. And besides, some of the local authority homes are woefully underfunded so the comparison isn’t really an equitable one at all.

 

So what’s all the fuss about then? Well, I suppose the devil is always in the detail, and whilst most people I know are happy to pay more, and in some cases a lot more, for something they consider to be a superior product or service, I wonder whether this the beginning of a trend for what the market is starting to perceive as not such a superior service in some cases. Mark my words, there will likely be more stories like this. Oh and there’s another red herring in all the fracas. The story is really about transparency, not about high or unfair fees at all.

 

I’m not talking about Sunrise in isolation here, there are plenty of care providers that charge high fees, and whilst there are lots of examples where the high fee tracks through to high quality, that’s not always the case. You’ve heard the phrase ‘fur coat no knickers’, well, if you get the chance, take a walk into the next 10 random ‘quality’ care homes you see and I bet you a quid you’ll see more knickers than fur coats. I’m not having a play with words, and those who know me will know that I am passionate about care, and have a particular passion for dementia care. Transparency is more than just declaring what your fees are. It’s also about demonstrating how those fees relate to the individual resident and the care that is provided in return for the fees.

 

I would love to see true stats for care providers that claim to provide great care, quality dining, fit for purpose activity and a service that allows residents the dignity and care that we all know they deserve. Don’t start waving your Care Quality Commission (CQC) reports at me (that’s about as rock star as I’m going to get) because that is just a snap shot of one day, perhaps two, of an audit carried out by an overworked and understaffed regulator. By the way, next time you’re talking to anyone from the CQC ask them how many trained nurses they have on their team. I’ll bet you another quid it’s a lot less than you thought it ought to be.

 

Visit the homes unannounced, and at different times of the day. The Home Manager should either show you around, or at least introduce themselves to you on your tour of the home. Make a mental note of who they say hello to and who’s names they remember. Whilst you’re at it, dig deep into the activities shown and have a think about how they improve the quality of the lives of the residents living there. Better still, ask.

 

The above isn’t a list of bad things to look out for, it’s actually a list of good things. See them done well and you might have just found the right home for your loved one.  There are some incredible examples of fantastic quality in the care sector, and I have had the pleasure of working with some of the angels that deliver care on the ground every day. But, there are also those who have for too long been able to play on the harsh reality that the sector is massively overwhelmed. The regulator has to balance enforcement of quality versus the consequence of what to do with the residents where a home is forced to close. Just give that a moment’s thought.

 

This might be just a bit of a storm in a tea cup. After all, we Brits do have a tendency to be rather short in memory. Remember the expenses scandal, the financial services scandal, Hugh Grant with the hooker. I still have a bit of a head shake with that one. We’ll have a bit of a hoo haa and there will be a little bit more of a hullabaloo, and then everything will go back to normal.

 

What I do hope however, is that the sector gives a thought to the many thousands of vulnerable adults in their care, and whilst doing so does its utmost to provide a transparent and open platform both in terms of the care that’s provided and the fees that are charged.

 

This information provided in this article is not intended to constitute legal advice and each relationship breakdown requires careful consideration in our view by a fully qualified Solicitor before decisions are made and before you embark on a certain course of action.

 

Nino Cuffaro

Penn Chambers Solicitors
0207 183 1485

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