An Anglesey care home owner is calling for an investigation into the way local authorities are using “underhand tactics” to avoid their legal obligations in the way they set fees.
Glyn Williams, who runs the Gwyddfor Residential Home at Bodedern, Anglesey claims Anglesey County Council and other North Wales authorities are underfunding care homes and failing to comply with a Welsh Government Social Services and Well-Being Act.
Mr Williams, who bought the residential home after retiring from the military after 25 years of service with the RAF, is battling to keep the home Covid-free, using his training in nuclear, biological and chemical warfare to create a three-stage decontamination unit at the entrance.
But he despairs at the way the Anglesey Council and the other local authorities are operating when it comes to setting fees and keeping them low.
According to Mr Williams, he is so concerned that he is calling for a Welsh Government inquiry into the way they go about determining fee levels.
Mr Williams spoke out after Care Forum Wales, which represents nearly 500 social care providers, presented a “terrible ten” local authorities with Cheapskate Awards for paying the lowest care home fees in Wales amid the coronavirus crisis.
They revealed the biggest difference between the highest and lowest weekly fee per person is more than £12,000 a year – equivalent to nearly £500,000 in a care home with 40 residents over a 12 month period.
The “league table of shame” showed that the providers in Anglesey were paid £576 a week per person for residential care while those in Cardiff were paid £737.89 – a difference of more than £8,400 a year per resident.
According to Mr Williams, the huge gulf between the top and the bottom payers was evidence of an unfair post code lottery which was threatening the well-being of the nation’s most vulnerable people and the future of social care in Wales.
He said: “Our standard weekly fee for care at Gwyddfor is £789.37 this year, or £112 per night. That may sound a lot but what standard of hotel would you get for that?
“We provide a fully inclusive service including four meals a day, all the tea and coffee a resident wants, 24-hour room service, entertainment, transport and free drinks from our residents’ bar. And add to that our highly trained and professional care staff providing round-the-clock specialist dementia care.
“I notify the Authority of my standard fee every year, a fee that we work out using a recognised funding toolkit, and have informed them I simply cannot admit anyone to our home for less than this.
“Their normal funding rate for residential care is £576 per week, which works out at £82 per night. This leaves an additional cost to the authority, which they can recover by various means, so long as it complies with the Social Services and Well-Being Act.
“But authorities across North Wales appear to be working together to drive down the fee level that they are willing to fund, in order to fit their budgets.
“Providers like us have been frustrated for years by the underhand methods which the authorities use to recover, or avoid these additional cost.
“I’ve had meeting after meeting trying to get this sorted out but they are simply not prepared to follow the legal guidance, because, in truth it will cost them too much.”
He added: “Methods employed to avoid the additional costs include a failure in providing a real choice of accommodation. They tell families they can’t go to a chosen home unless they pay the additional cost even if the authority has no other placements available.
“They allow previously ‘needs assessed’ self-funding residents to pay for their care out of their protected £50,000 savings and do not enter into agreements with third-parties before charging them the additional cost.
“They set arbitrary fee levels which take absolutely no account of an individual’s care and support requirements. They avoid financial assessments and call people self-funders when they are clearly not or shouldn’t be .”
“One of our residents is a previously self-funded lady who has recently qualified for help towards the cost of her care.
“The authority informed me via email they had asked the family to submit financial records to prove they could not make a third-party contribution towards the cost of their loved one’s care.
“I found t is shocking as there is, in my opinion, no legal document which requires a family to be means-tested to support a family member in this way.
“This appeared very irregular to me, so I made further enquiries with the family and discovered they had not been asked. It appears this was simply a ploy to try and get me to reduce the additional cost to the authority.
“The authority have done a subsequent backtrack on this one and are now, thankfully, paying our full standard fee. “
He added: “In the past, we at Gwyddfor Residential Home have reduced the additional cost to the authority in good faith and in attempt to develop a true partnership approach for the good of all on Anglesey.
“ I have notified the council we simply can no longer sustain these reductions. I have also asked for all existing residents with previously reduced additional costs, to be increased to what the council would have paid had we not agreed a reduction. In other words to the equivalent cost of a new admission.
“This appears to be in accordance with the code because it states the code of practice on charging must apply equally to both existing and new placements made by the Authority but I’m not holding my breath.”
“We are a Living Wage Foundation accredited employer and it’s my understanding we are the first care home provider in Wales to commit to this. We take care seriously and want local authorities to stop short-changing us.
“ It’s clear they are using underhand and devious tactics to avoid complying with their obligations under the legislation. There should be an inquiry and local authorities need to come to the table prepared to agree stand by their financial commitments.”
Care Forum Wales are calling for an urgent national action plan to tackle the “unfair and unjust” post code lottery of fees in Wales.
Backing the call for an inquiry, chair Mario Kreft MBE said: “This mess has come about because the market has been mis-managed by the 22 local authorities in Wales for more than two decades of devolution.
“As the First Minister himself pointed out, the social care sector was in a fragile state well before the pandemic and what we are calling for is an urgent national action because this is about equality and fairness for the residents, their families and the staff.
“During the Coronavirus pandemic we have seen the heroic efforts made by staff right across Wales to shield social care and save lives.
“They have faced real danger and I think the public understand their value more than ever before.
“One of the main purposes of a fair approach to funding of care homes is to ensure people working on the front line get what they deserve and that ensuring they are paid fairly is fed into the methodology that local authorities use to calculate fees.
“We need to build a sustainable care system that will truly be an effective scaffold for the NHS.
“We have a similar postcode lottery in relation to the funding provided by health boards across Wales, so this is one almighty mess with essentially 29 varieties on a theme. It doesn’t make any sense at all.”
“The system is completely dysfunctional and has resulted in the sector suffering years of chronic underfunding since it was introduced.
“We were seeing care homes and nursing homes closing across Wales even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It is hard to see how many care providers can continue in business with fees at this level and they really represent an insult not just to the staff but also to the 20,000 care home residents across Wales.”