HL Deb 04 February 2002 vol 631 cc459-61

3 p.m.

Baroness Greengross asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to reform the personal expenses allowance for older people in residential or nursing care homes.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the current level of the personal expenses allowance is £16.05 per week. Ministers consulted about increasing this to £16.80. Decisions are imminent. This allowance is in addition to other income and assets not taken into account by the financial assessment for residential care.

The personal expenses allowance should not be spent on services which care homes are contracted to provide by councils, nor on services assessed as necessary by councils and the NHS. The Government will be strengthening guidance to local authorities in that respect.

Baroness Greengross

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. But there are many examples of elderly people in residential and nursing care having to use their personal expenses allowance for services which are not demanded but are essential to them, such as chiropody and sometimes to buy birthday presents for their grandchildren. Help the Aged, which recently produced a report, Age Concern and many other organisations can provide many examples. Certainly, they do not always receive the allowance to which they are entitled. Does the Minister agree that what is important is that older people actually receive the allowance—and in fact a higher allowance—and are able to spend it on the things that they really want?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, in essence I agree that it is important that older people in care homes receive the personal allowance, or if it is used to offset purchases that those purchases are with their explicit consent, wherever it is possible to receive such a consent.

The Help the Aged report, which was a survey of some 46 people, is a useful indication of issues. The problem mostly occurred with relatives rather than with the care home management staff themselves. That pointed to the importance of relatives making it clear to their elderly relative that they were entitled to the full amount if they wanted it, or being clear as to what had been withheld where that was not happening. The Government will look into these issues as part of the revised guidance that I mentioned.

Baroness Noakes

My Lords, the noble Lord indicated that he had read the Help the Aged report: Friday is Pay Day. It contained evidence inter alia of care homes withholding some of the personal allowance in order to meet fees charged by those homes which were not being met by the amounts received from the local authorities. What do the Government intend to do about that?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, whether or not care homes or residential homes think that they do not have enough money from local authorities, that is no justification for their taking money that is the entitlement of older people. Those are issues that they should take up with the local authority itself, as no doubt some of them are so doing. Overall the Government, in developing appropriate supply relationships in the care home industry, are promoting building capacity for care homes, issuing advisory documents to local authorities and stressing the importance of developing longer-term supply relationships rather than short-term spot purchasing.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords. does the Minister agree that this is an issue that affects the dignity and the health of old people in homes? Having their feet and hair done sounds like a minor thing but it is what makes the difference between individuality and being just a number in a home. I should like much stronger assurances from the Government than I have yet heard that it will be made unlawful for both the home and the local authorities to withhold any of the extremely small amounts of money that most of these old people have.

Lord Filkin

My Lords. I strongly agree. The report reminds one how important small amounts of money over which people can retain personal control can he to retaining one's self respect and dignity when everything else in that environment is provided. That is really crucial for people's self regard. In fact, in the circumstances quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, it is already illegal for that to take place. It is theirs as of right and theirs lawfully. That is why the Government intend in their guidance, which will be published in April, to make these points explicitly clear to relatives and to care homes, whether they are run by local authorities or are in the private sector.

Lord Addington

My Lords, the Minister's response to this Question proves that the Department of Health is now taking over responsibility for the allowances which was traditionally the role of the Department for Work and Pensions. Will the Government guarantee that they will use the same upgrading system for these charges in the future as was used by the previous department?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I think that I would be wise to say that I shall write to the noble Lord on that point.

Baroness Pitkeathley

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the establishment of the National Care Standards Commission will have an important effect on these issues? I refer in particular to the communication of information to older people when they enter residential care and also to their relatives.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, we have great confidence in the National Care Standards Commission. It will be an important vehicle in taking forward the national service framework for older people and the Government's commitment to improve the standard of care to older people in our society. We shall watch its work with interest and wish it Godspeed as it starts its work this year.