Essex care home payment debt country’s second highest

Essex has the second highest level of care home debt in the country.

Families owe Essex County Council £11.9million – the second highest amount after Northumberland – to be largely clawed back through sale of family homes.

Another £2.8million is owed by residents in the devolved area of Southend and £690,000 by Thurrock.

The debt accrued in the Essex County Council-controlled area has been amassed in just 95 deferred payment agreements (DPAs) – each one with an average debt of around £125,000.

Southend has agreed 110 DPAs, while Thurrck has agreed 10.

A DPA is an arrangement where the local authority pays care fees, and the individual can delay repaying until they sell their home or die.

In Essex County Council areas there were 105 DPAs the year before worth £10.1million – each worth £96,000.

Last year, around 50 DPAs ended in the Essex County Council controlled area.

The councils in Essex collected £2.3million – £1.5million in the Essex County Council area, £680,00 in Southend and £30,000 in Thurrock for care home bills from DPAs that had ended, but were unable to recover £60,000 owed on some finished agreements.

In 2018/19, around 135 new DPAs were agreed – 95 in Essex and 40 in Southend, up from around 130 a year before.

Of the new DPAs agreed in Essex, around 95 were for a bridging loan to pay care home costs while the home was sold, 40 were lifetime loans agreed in Southend, which are paid back from the sale of the home after the person dies.

Most councils charge fees and interest for taking out these loans.

In Essex, these ranged from 1.45 per cent in the Essex County Council area to 1.65 per cent in Southend and Thurrock.

The county council charges a £450 fee, while it is £525 in Southend and £144 in Thurrock. All numbers are rounded to the nearest five.

The government gave everyone the right to defer paying care home fees from April 2015.

It intended for people to be able to defer their care fees for their lifetime and pay from their estate, providing more time for decisions, choice and peace of mind over how people use their home – for example so that a relative or tenant can live there.

People have to fund their own care if they have over £23,250 worth of assets, unless they qualify for medical care.

Essex County Council Lib Dem group leader Mike Mackrory said: “The overriding feeling is that this is very inefficient.

“It’s a real concern, I have to say.”

Boris Johnson has vowed to produce a plan for solving the social care crisis within the next 12 months.

Last week he repeated his campaign pledge that those entering old age would not have to sell their homes to pay for care on the back of a manifesto pledge for an extra £1billion per year for care budgets.

The Prime Minister has promised to produce a plan within the next 12 months – although the changes would not come into effect until 2025.

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter