Care UK has agreed to pay more than £1m in refunds to NHS-funded residents who were charged additional fees towards essential care at its premium homes.
The fee, which in most cases was above £300 per week, was charged to residents in receipt of funding from the NHS called ‘continuing healthcare’. The funding is designed to cover the costs of essential care for people with long-term complex health needs.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) argued Care UK broke consumer protection law by charging the additional fee because it was unfair and contravened NHS rules. Under the rules, residents funded through continuing healthcare must not be required to pay towards their essential care.
Following the CMA’s action, which comes as part of a wider probe into the sector, Care UK has agreed to offer repayments to NHS-funded residents whose fees went towards their essential care.
More than 160 residents at over 20 Care UK premium homes will be offered compensation by the end of November. The majority of those affected will receive a pay-out of more than £1,000, with some receiving substantially more based on their circumstances, the CMA said.
While the provider has committed to stop charging the additional fees, it has rejected they were unfair.
The fee covered a range of benefits including spacious en-suite rooms, onsite cafes and cinemas, activities and a premium dining experience. It said families always had the option of more modest, fully-funded homes as an alternative.
A spokesperson for the provider said: ‘The CMA’s action to stop us offering families the option of placing their loved ones in a premium home by making a personal contribution in addition to NHS funding is a backwards step in terms of consumer choice.
‘The number of families this affects within Care UK has always been very small and, as such, we agreed to settle with the CMA to enable us to focus on the more pressing challenges facing the sector at present.’
The provider said clinical commissioning groups had been supportive of having access to additional homes, and the families involved welcomed the additional choice.
The spokesperson said: ‘In light of unclear NHS guidance and the widespread nature of these fees across the sector, we reject the CMA’s suggestion that they were unfair. In reaching this settlement, we do not accept that we have breached any rules or misled anyone taking a place with us.
‘We have done our best to be transparent with all involved, and as these fees are common practice with a great many other care home providers, we are at a loss to understand why the CMA has singled out Care UK.’
Michael Grenfell, CMA executive director of enforcement, said: ‘Older people receiving continuing healthcare funding are some of the most vulnerable in our society and should not be expected to pay extra fees towards their essential care.
‘We are pleased to see Care UK committing to make repayments as quickly as possible, and to stop charging this additional fee altogether, which is good news for all current and future residents.’