One of the UK’s biggest care home providers has decided to drop controversial “after death” fees following an investigation. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) welcomed Maria Mallaband Care Group’s (MMCG) decision to stop using a contract term requiring the payment of one month’s fees following the death of a resident who paid for their own care. The move comes as part of an ongoing consumer law investigation by the watchdog into fees charged by a number of care home providers, and its year-long study of the residential care home market where the CMA made clear its concerns that it is unfair to continue to charge fees for an extended period after a resident has died.
Maria Mallaband, together with its sister company, Countrywide Care Homes, operates 64 residential care homes in England and Northern Ireland. MMCG has agreed to amend its contract terms so that fees will only be charged up to the date of death. As part of its work, the CMA found that charging fees after death was widespread across the sector and that practices vary. In order to ensure that care homes take a consistent and lawful approach, the CMA will be publishing compliance advice for the sector as a whole. It has today launched a public consultation seeking views on its draft advice, so it can reach a final view on whether it’s fair to charge fees after death and, if so, for how long.
Michael Grenfell, Executive Director for Enforcement at the CMA, said: “It is important that care home residents, and their families, can be confident they will be fairly treated, especially during the difficult period after a family member has died. We are pleased that the Maria Mallaband Care Group has been responsive to our concerns about fees charged after death, and has taken clear and positive steps to make changes ahead of our public consultation on such fees. We expect other care homes to make any necessary changes in line with our final views when published.” The CMA said it now wants to hear from families and care homes as part of its ongoing investigation. Alex Hayman, Which? managing director of public markets, said: “Which? has heard from hundreds of people who have faced problems with care homes, including being hit with unfair and excessive fees, which often come as families are grieving for a lost loved one. “Care home providers must take note of this decision as the first step to phasing out all unfair and excessive charges for residents. Families must now be given much greater clarity about the charges that they will face when their loved ones are in care and people must be properly protected at all stages of finding and securing care.” A Maria Mallaband spokesperson said: “MMCG welcomes the CMA investigations into the care sector and as you will note from their comments we have participated openly and constructively taking voluntary action as we deemed appropriate. The clause upon which they have focused was, in any event, frequently not applied by us. “The CMA are looking into many issues in our sector and we believe their findings will help towards a much needed common understanding of fairness, whether that be in relation to specific terms of business or the chronic underfunding by local authorities of much needed care services.”