A solicitor's view of the latest social care system changes

Sidmouth solicitor Gemma Shepherd

Advice from Sidmouth-based solicitor, Gemma Shepherd - Credit: Gemma Shepherd/SFE

The Government recently announced an overhaul of the social care system in the UK. 

But were the changes worth the wait?  

Here, Sidmouth-based solicitor Gemma Shepherd, who specialises in legal issues affecting older and vulnerable people and is regional director in Devon and Cornwall for the non-profit Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) organisation, gives her view... 

“Were the Government’s long-awaited plans for a much-needed overhaul of social care worth the wait? In a word, no.  

The amendment to England’s social care plans brings more confusion to an already confused system and will be unlikely to save many people any money. There may be a positive difference for a very limited number of people but certainly not poorer pensioners.  

It’s clear the safety net for individuals has some significant holes in it. None of us can rely on it and each of us should make both a health and a wealth plan. It’s time we stopped thinking of planning for the future as something we do in later life.  

Day in, day out, we support older and vulnerable people facing issues like care home fee rises, poor quality of care, the desire to stay in your own home, and lack of access to funding for support for conditions like dementia. The earlier each of us begins, the more options we allow ourselves when we eventually do need support. 

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When thinking about protecting your home when it comes to paying for the cost of care, there are a few things to consider:

If the council agrees you need to move into a care home, you’ll usually have a financial assessment to work out how much you’ll need to pay yourself. If you own your house and your spouse, partner or civil partner is still living there then a ‘property disregard’ could apply which means your home won’t be used to fund care costs. 

However, the local authority will take pensions into account when they decide how much people will pay towards their own care. Unless pensions are in joint names, they don’t see them as a shared asset – they see them as linked to one individual. If the person with the pension in their name needs to pay for care, the pension will be used for this and it may leave the remaining spouse with very little to live on. 

In most cases, couples tend to own a property in joint names. One of the primary reasons people change this is to ensure their 50% share of the property passes to their children, rather than it automatically passing to a surviving spouse/partner (and then subsequently the whole value of the property coming into consideration for the costs of care of the surviving partner/spouse). You can sever the joint tenancy over your property by each party signing a written notice and then updating the ownership position with the Land Registry. However, we wouldn’t always recommend doing this – you may want to see your home as an investment into your care. This would give you a greater to ability to choose where you’d like to be cared for (close to loved ones and relatives perhaps) and how (any preferences you may have that would incur a greater care cost). 

Each individual’s circumstances are very different so we’d always recommend speaking to a specialist solicitor – look for the SFE accreditation or visit sfe.legal. 

Independent Age also has some good advice on their website and a free helpline. Details are available at www.independentage.org/get-advice/support-care/paying-for-care/do-i-have-to-sell-my-home-to-pay-for-residential-care” 

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