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A likely mess: MP Peter Bone in care fee assessment debacle

Conservative MP for Wellingborough and Rushden, Peter Bone has been embroiled in allegations of benefit fraud relating to his mother-in-law, Dorothy…

Conservative MP for Wellingborough and Rushden, Peter Bone has been embroiled in allegations of benefit fraud relating to his mother-in-law, Dorothy Sweeney.

Northamptonshire County Council (‘NCC’) has complained that assets have been deliberately concealed so that NCC would fund Mrs Sweeney’s time in a care home. The Crown Prosecution Service (‘CPS’) has been notified of the fraud allegations and the MP’s home has recently been raided by police.

The current law states that anyone who holds assets totalling more than £23,250 must pay for their own care-home fees. This includes the value of their home: it is estimated that around 20,000 pensioners a year sell their homes to pay for their own care. Only when the assets are reduced to the threshold will the local authority pay for the fees in full. Even then, if the individual holds assets above £14,250 then the care fees will be shared between the Council and individual.

The investigation of Mr Bone and his family follows a 5-year-long dispute between Mr Bone’s wife Jeanette (known as ‘Jennie’) and NCC. Mrs Bone alleges that NCC has failed to properly fund her elderly mother’s care needs.  The Bones accused NCC of failing to comply with regulations on charging for residential care (known as the ‘CRAG guidelines’) and failing to apply their own appeals system.

The CPS has issued a statement saying it will reach a decision as soon as it is practicable.

With such a high profile individual involved in this type of dispute, it reminds us of the complexities and dangerous pitfalls of looking after the elderly, funding their care and looking at care fee planning and schemes to mitigate the costs. Local councils have become more willing to investigate the financial affairs of the elderly in order to claim the costs of care.  Any schemes to mitigate these costs are increasingly looked at very carefully to try and identify any ‘deliberate deprivation’ of assets, an example of such schemes. Deliberate deprivation occurs when an individual transfers an asset out of his or her possession to put him or herself in a better position regarding the means test for care home accommodation. CRAG gives the following examples of deliberate deprivation:

  •  the making of a lump-sum payment such as a gift or to pay off a debt;
  •  transferring the title deeds of a property to someone else; and
  •  putting money into a trust that cannot be revoked.

Deliberate deprivation is not allowed under CRAG and local authorities may attempt to recover such sums from the third party who received any assets.

With Britain’s population increasing year on year (and with three-quarters of elderly people expected to develop a social care need), this is an issue which warrants attention from the government and financially-astute individuals alike.