Care homes lose battle over Northumberland County Council fees

Members of Care North East, Northumberland (CNEN) have lost their battle with Northumberland County Council over fees

Northumberland County Council, County Hall, Morpeth
Northumberland County Council, County Hall, Morpeth

A group of care home providers have failed in a bid to convince top judges to overturn a freeze on the fees they are paid by Northumberland County Council.

Members of Care North East, Northumberland (CNEN) - who are all owners and managers of care homes in the county - went to the Appeal Court in London to challenge an earlier High Court ruling which upheld the council’s decision to fix its fees.

Lawyers for CNEN argued the council had acted “contrary to guidance” and said the freeze was a “reduction in real terms” which was likely to lead to a drop in the quality of care available to residents, as well as the possible closure of some care homes.

But their challenge was dismissed by three of the country’s top judges, who said the council paid sufficient attention to the guidance and there was no error in the High Court’s decision.

The authority decided to freeze the fees it pays to care home owners in the county for three years in April last year, which caused a dispute with a number of care homes.

CNEN argued the council had failed to have due regard to the “actual cost” per resident of providing care when reaching its decision.

They said the authority had asked why care could not be provided at the same rate as other care providers in the North East, rather than asking what the CNEN members actual care costs were.

Mr Justice Supperstone ruled, following a High Court hearing in February, that the council had taken sufficient account of the guidance set out by the Government.

Challenging that decision, Helen Mountfield QC, for CNEN, argued the council had been wrong to reach its conclusions on the level of cost by comparing care home fees in Northumberland with others parts of the region.

She said: “It is not disputed that an authority may benchmark its fees against those of other similar authorities and may conclude, as a result of such an exercise, that there are questions to be asked about the level of its fees. It is submitted, however, that the council could not draw conclusions as to the ‘actual cost’ of care provision in Northumberland from the levels of fees set elsewhere.”

Ms Mountfield said that, as a result of inflation, the freeze would result in a “very substantial and increasing reduction in real terms” in the fees for council-funded residents.

She added: “This is likely to result in a decrease in the quality of care available to residents and prospective residents, and/or the closure of some care homes, which will result in the residents of those care homes losing their homes and being forced to move elsewhere.”

But, dismissing the appeal, Lord Justice Sullivan said the council had given enough weight to the guidance and that Mr Justice Supperstone made no error in reaching the decision he did.

He added: “The judge’s conclusion that the council did have due regard to the actual costs of care was plainly correct.”

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