Care homes firm Sunrise to refund ‘up-front fees’ to residents

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Care homes operator Sunrise Senior Living will pay more than £2m in compensation to residents after charging them thousands of pounds in compulsory “up-front fees”.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) secured the deal for most people who had paid since 1 October 2015.

People who have left or leave within two years of moving into one of the company’s homes are eligible.

If the resident dies in this timescale, their family will receive the money.

The average individual payout will be about £3,000 on average.

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The move comes as part of the CMA’s continuing investigation into how some care homes charge for their services.

Last November, the watchdog found that as well as charging the “up-front fees”, some care homes were also billing families for weeks after their relatives had died.

It also highlighted how those paying for themselves were paying much higher charges than council-funded residents.

The average weekly charge for self-funders was £846 – 40% more than local authority rates.

‘Good outcome’

In the Sunrise case, the CMA was concerned that the care home group’s description of its “up-front fees” and how it would be used was unclear.

Moreover, prospective residents were having to pay out before they had secured a place at the home.

The CMA also raised concerns that the fee was non-refundable once someone had lived in the home for more than 30 days.

George Lusty, the CMA’s senior director for consumer protection, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We think this is a really good outcome.

“It’s a time of particular vulnerability for anyone who’s looking around for a place in a care home and we are particularly concerned that residents get clear information that allows them to make a good choice about the right place for them at a difficult time.”

He added: “We hope that this news will act as a spur to others to make sure they are doing the right thing by residents.”

Mr Lusty confirmed that the CMA was looking into other similar cases at the moment.

‘Significant action’

Janet Morrison, chief executive of charity Independent Age, told the BBC: “It is unacceptable that these fees were unfairly imposed on care home residents in the first place, and we welcome this decision to repay the money.

“Finding a care home can be complex and it is vital that care home providers are completely transparent on what any fees or charges cover, so older people and their families are clear on what they are paying for.”

Alex Hayman, Which? managing director of public markets, said: “While no amount of money can make up for the stress and hardship some families may have suffered as a result of these unfair fees, this is a significant action to do the right thing by the people who had little choice other than to pay them.

“Other care home providers should now scrap these excessive charges, and we urge the government to swiftly act on its commitment to strengthen protections for all residents and their families.”

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at charity Age UK, said: “It is a travesty that these type of fees were imposed on residents in the first place. We hope this sets a precedent for other providers to ensure they are not charging unnecessarily and that all fees are fair.”

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