Unfair care home practices examined by watchdog
A review of the UK's care home market is being launched by the competition watchdog to see if residents are being treated fairly.
The Competition and Markets Authority study will look at whether the current complaints and regulation system gives residents adequate protection.
Reports of potentially unfair practices and contract terms being used by some care homes will also be examined.
The market study will assess whether there are breaches of consumer law.
There are currently 430,000 older people in care and nursing homes in the UK.
The CMA said it particularly wanted to hear from care home residents and their relatives who had encountered issues such as unexplained or "hidden" charges, unexpected fee increases, confusing requests for "top-up" payments, or occasions when they felt complaints had not been handled fairly.
'Emotional and costly'
The watchdog said it also wanted to hear from charities and care home providers about the services they offered and any challenges they faced.
Andrea Coscelli, CMA acting chief executive, said: "Choosing a care home can be emotional and costly.
"It's therefore essential that elderly people and their families have all the information they need to make the best possible choice, and then feel secure in the knowledge they will be fairly treated throughout their time there."
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The market study will also evaluate the effectiveness of competition between care homes in driving quality and value for money for residents and taxpayers.
It will also consider how local authorities and other public bodies purchase and assign care home places, and how they encourage and shape local supply.
The study, which could take up to a year, could result in the CMA taking consumer or competition law enforcement action and making recommendations to the government to change regulations or public policy.
Citizens Advice, a network of charities that offer advice for people on issues including consumer rights, said a lack of protections in the care market was exposing older people and their families to "poor practices".
Chief executive Gillian Guy said: "Given people paying care bills in many ways have fewer protections than those buying a package holiday or as an energy customer, it is good that the CMA will now investigate the care home market.
"In particular it's important that the investigation looks closely at whether further regulation is needed."