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CMA launches market study into adult social care sector

The competition watchdog has launched a market study into adult social care to review care homes’ treatment of residents and how well they work.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) study will assess how the UK’s 430,000 care home residents and their relatives have found the experience of choosing a care home, explore how well the sector’s current complaints system protects residents, and how well care home providers comply with consumer law obligations.

The CMA has promised to look particularly closely at reports of potentially unfair practices such as unexplained or ‘hidden charges’, fee increases or the ill handling of complaints to assess exactly how widespread these concerns are.

Andrea Coscelli, acting chief executive of the CMA, 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.

“We are undertaking a thorough review of the sector to make sure it works in the best interests of those who rely on it. Given the concerns we have heard about possible breaches of consumer law, we particularly want to hear from people who think they might have encountered unfair terms or practices.”

The market study will also evaluate the effectiveness of competition between care homes in raising quality and value for money of the sector for residents and taxpayers and how local authorities purchase, assign and supply care home places.

The announcement follows the publication of a report earlier this week by the older people’s charity Independent Age, which found that the adult social care sector lacks the transparency and quality controls that exist in the NHS, leading to families “flying blind” when choosing care homes.

Janet Morrison, chief executive of Independent Age, welcomed the news of the CMA’s review, which the charity had called for in its report.

“The CMA’s review of care homes, which we called for in our recent report on the sector, is very good news for residents and their families. It is very hard for them to know whether they are getting value for money in care home costs and we regularly hear concerns about unfair contracts and unreasonable fee increases,” Morrison said.

“All this paints a picture of a sector that is often failing consumers who are at their most vulnerable. While we recognise that care providers operate against a backdrop of severe funding pressures, a CMA review of the sector should identify how it can work better for the older people and families who use it.”

The CMA has invited views on the issues raised in the statement of scope by Monday 16 January 2017. The CMA expects to publish the final report outlining its findings from the review in November next year.

(Image: c. CQC)

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