This piece first appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 27 February 1999
The text here may not be identical to the published text

The crushing cost of care

Selling your home to pay the fees

Jim and Trish Archard may have to sell the family home in Maidstone and move out to raise money to pay the £250 a week nursing home fees of Jim's mother, Elaine. It is the nightmare of every family when an elderly person reaches the time of life when they need more care than loving relatives can provide. Elaine, now 87, suffers from dementia and has been in a home for nearly ten years. Her savings are exhausted, as Trish explained

"She used all her savings over the first six years. Then my husband paid for three years. But now she has moved from a residential care home to a nursing home the fees are more like £250 a week than £100 and we just can’t go on. We applied for income support for her from the Benefits Agency. But the house here is owned 50:50 between Jim and his mum and the claim was turned down because she owns half the house."

The Archard's now feel they may have to sell the house and garden where Mr Archard was born and where his father's ashes are buried. But the law seems on their side. Someone in a nursing home is allowed to have £16,000 savings or capital and still claim the maximum help with their fees from the state - either the Benefits Agency if they have been in a home since before April 1993, or from the local social services department if they moved into care later than that. If they own a house its value can count as capital. But in most cases that only happens if it is empty. Its value is ignored completely if a spouse still lives in it. It is also ignored if a relative lives there who is aged 60 or more or disabled. The Archard's - still in their forties and healthy - do not fit in either category. So if Jim's mother owned the house outright, the value of the home would be counted as her capital and no income support towards the fees would be paid. But it is not entirely hers. Jim owns half. And the question is - how should her share be valued?

Under the rules the Benefits Agency has to value Mrs Archard's share of a property which is occupied by another joint owner who does not want to sell it. Official guidance states the Agency has to get that share professionally valued. But no-one has even been to see the house. Trish Archard thinks the Benefits Agency has just guessed.

"The first figure was, of course, well over £16,000 which meant she would get no income support. We had to go to a tribunal to get them to look at it again. But now they have come back with another figure which is still more than £16,000. And that is despite us having an estate agent who said that he could not sell a part of the house with us still in it. This has been going on since last May. That has cost us another £9000 in fees. The Department of Social Security is just trying to wangle it so that the amount is too big for her to get anything from them."

The guidelines state that the Benefits Agency should consider "whether the valuer has any experience or knowledge of a sale of an undivided share in the circumstances of the claimant's case." As no-one came to value the house, Trish Archard asked local estate agents what her mother-in-law's share was worth. They said it had no value - they simply could not sell it in those circumstances. The Government seems to accept that view where the social services department - as opposed to the Benefits Agency - is involved in a case. Department of Health guidelines on jointly owned property state "it is highly unlikely that any outsider would be willing to buy into the property...the value of the interest even to a willing buyer could in such circumstances effectively be nil."

And that is certainly the view of Age Concern. Policy Officer Pauline Thompson [correct] says

"It shows the great difficulty of valuing the property where someone is living in it. My experience is that no estate agent will sell such a share in a property. And I would be surprised if anyone was willing to buy into a property where a family jointly owned it and were still living in it."

The Archards are close to despair.

"Whatever the legal position we feel we may have to sell. I don't think it's right and I’m trying not to think of moving. I tell you we are so fed up with the way we are being treated, if we do have to sell we'll emigrate."

The Benefits Agency were not able to comment on the case, but said "The valuation of a jointly owned property is carried out to ensure the value reflects an amount a person could expect to receive if a share of the property were sold on the open market. A valuation takes place on an external basis and thecustomer would not generally be aware that it had been done."

27 February 1999

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