Never mind the flowers and card on Sunday. Mum's future care home fees could run to six figures, even with the proposed cap. Valuing Care FM’s specialist Ray Hart has tips for cost control
For most of life’s expenses, we try to negotiate; who doesn’t like to get a good deal? Some people may be better at it than others, but we’ve all had a dabble at some stage or other – be it for a car, a house or even a hotel room. We all want to receive value for money.
Moving into a residential or nursing home is one of the largest financial decisions that people make in their lifetime – either for themselves or, in generation high50’s case, for a loved one. Few of us would accept the first quote received for a new car, and yet the majority of so-called ‘self-funders’ accept the first quote for a care home placement without question.
Many purchases have an element of emotion attached, but probably none more than when people are faced with choosing a care home for their dear old mum.
The trouble is, the decision is often made at a time of crisis: she’s had a nasty fall, perhaps, or wandered off for the first time. This leads people to make quick, panic decisions. The last thing on their minds is whether a few pounds can be saved.
But there can be savings, and they can amount to thousands of pounds. At (a fairly inexpensive) £500 per week, the average length of stay in a residential home would cost a total of £60,000. Even a £50 a week reduction on that could save £6,000 over the duration of the placement.
So isn’t it time we started to explore the idea of negotiating care home fees, and leverage the negotiation skills we use for our other major purchases?
Most people only go through the process of placing a parent in a care home once or twice in their lifetimes, so have limited understanding of the social care sector. Self-funders are usually unaware of whether they are receiving value for money and don’t feel confident enough to challenge the fees.
In fact, anyone can negotiate. It is no different from trying to agree a better deal with other purchases; the principles are the same.
The first step is to undertake thorough background research, and know the price range for your area. Free comparator tools such as Valuing Care Fees help, by calculating whether the fee you’ve been quoted is value for money.
Alternatively, you could approach your local council to establish the rate paid to care providers as a benchmark guide.
Be mindful that fees vary widely according to location, just as house prices differ. For instance, you can expect to pay more for care in the South-East than perhaps the North-East.
Equally, staffing costs differ widely across the country. So, if you have an aged and lonely parent living in a built-up area some distance away from you and in need of full-time residential care, it might make sense to move them to an equidistant or closer area that offers greater tranquillity and lower fees.
Consider the market conditions, too. The odds of securing a better deal are greater in a market where supply is high and demand low than vice versa. The South-West of England is an example of an area with higher demand than supply, probably because it is a traditional retirement location.
Furthermore, don’t limit yourself to just one option. Ensure that a broad selection of care homes – meeting the needs of the individual and located in the desired area – are on your list, and use this as a bargaining tool during negotiations.
Consider adding locations near other relatives, too, as this may open up the number of care homes available. Websites such as Better Caring have searchable lists of relevant care homes.
Also, try to get hold a sample contract, so that you know exactly what is being charged for the different elements. In theory it should be possible to view a breakdown of all costs. For instance, if your relative requires specialist nursing care, it is useful to understand how much the nursing element (such as staffing and equipment) costs on top of the standard residential care.
The next step, once you are equipped with the facts and figures and know the price you should be paying, is to approach the care home manager and negotiate directly.
Care home providers may be more flexible on costs than you envisage, particularly if you suggest a realistic price. Remember, this is not an aggressive pitch, or a time to alienate people. It’s a time to build relationships.
The goal, after all, is to achieve value for money. Nobody wants to drive the price so far down that it puts the care home in financial difficulty, so the negotiation needs to conclude in a fair, mutually satisfactory outcome.
Finally, bear in mind also that if the care home is unable to budge on fees, it may be possible to explore options such as including extras: a larger room, for example, or a television or private phone in the room, or daily newspapers, laundry and so on.
But what if you’re not comfortable with negotiating fees? In these instances, it may be better to turn to an expert for advice: a care fees negotiator who can sensitively manage the business on your behalf.
And that’s where I come in…