Accounts of old age

8th March 1996 at 00:00
Gerald Haigh looks at the costs of keeping elderly relatives in care

More than half the teaching profession is now aged between 40 and 55 - the stage at which many people are beset by worries about the care of elderly relatives. In most staffrooms there will be someone who is trying to decide whether mother should come home to live, or wondering where the money is coming from for dad's nursing home.

The most recent investigation into teacher stress (TES, February 16) showed that concern about elderly parents is the second biggest home-related worry.

Perhaps the most difficult time comes when an elderly relative has to go into residential care. Apart from the emotions involved, fees are invariably more than Pounds 200 a week and can be twice that - so a substantial-looking nest-egg can disappear within three or four years.

So much for cascading wealth. But do care residents really have to spend their own money? The quick answer is yes, if they have reasonable savings.

The Nineties have seen the government capping its contribution to local authority care. As a result, local authorities conduct searching financial assessments, and if the client's assets are in the form of a house, for example, a charge may be raised against it. Even within the financial guidelines, help is only forthcoming if the applicant is judged to need residential care.

Residents in care homes are permitted to hang on to some of their savings once they are down to modest levels. In November's Budget, the government moved the thresholds upwards so that people will start to get help with fees when their savings fall to Pounds 16,000. When they have less than Pounds 10,000 they will have all of their fees paid within approved limits. The previous respective thresholds were Pounds 8,000 and Pounds 3,000.

The government, however, chose to defer action until the beginning of the new financial year this April. Meanwhile, the old lower thresholds have continued, and this delay between announcing the change and putting it into effect has caused a great deal of concern. Since November many people in care have seen their savings running down below the new thresholds in the frustrating knowledge that had the new rules come into effect immediately, they could have kept the money.

If local authority Social Services will agree to meet the cost of residential care, this is not the end of the story, because the standard payment may be less than the home actually charges.

Carol Lynch, of the Teachers' Benevolent Fund, which has four residential and nursing homes and helps many retired teachers who encounter this problem, pointed out that: "The maximum limit for weekly fees approved by Social services is low and many residential homes have to charge fees that are considerably greater. This means that a vast number of older people need the help of a third party to live in a residential home of their choice."

The TBF, though originally set up by the NUT, is available for all teachers. Among the people they help are the Redwoods, both retired teachers. Mr Redwood, in his nineties, suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and needs special care. Not unnaturally he wants to be in a home near his wife, and this involves the couple in making up a shortfall in fees. Two years ago they ran out of money, and Mr Redwood would have had to leave his care home for something cheaper and further away were it not for help from the TBF.

The aim these days is to support elderly people in living independently wherever possible.

It is important, though, that anyone who needs help with personal care should apply for the Attendance Allowance. Applicants must bear in mind that it is not so much the disability itself that counts as how it affects their ability to look after themselves. The form is no place for modesty or misplaced pride.

People living alone often mistakenly believe they cannot have Attendance Allowance because nobody is looking after them. In fact the allowance is paid to the client based on the need for care, not on what currently happens.

The lower rate, for people who need some care either in the day or at night, is Pounds 31.20 a week. People who need care both day and night get Pounds 46.70.

Both rates will go up in April.

Sometimes a parent gives theirhouse to a son or daughter, while continuing to live in it, with the intention of avoiding the savings rule when the time comes. However, many local authorities now warn that they will still pursue the money in such cases. In any case, there are good reasons why parents should think carefully before giving the house away like this.

If the son or daughter dies, or a marriage breaks up, mum's home could end up in the hands of someone she did not expect. This is something about which to take professional advice.

Further changes are in the offing. The Government this week promised a Green Paper proposing a "partnership agreement" by which people who take out Pounds 50,000 of private insurance for residential care may be allowed to keep an additional Pounds 50,000 of their assets.

Information about Attendance Allowance from local benefits offices or The Attendance Allowance Unit, Warbreck House, Warbreck Hill, Blackpool FY2 0YE

Help the Aged, Freepost, Department CC London EC1B 1JY

Teachers' Benevolent Fund, Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9BE

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