Limitation and jurisdiction - the Care Act and recovery of care home fees

In a useful decision for local authorities, the High Court has dismissed an appeal against a county court decision in favour of Nottinghamshire County…

Nottinghamshire County Council v Belton The Estate of & Anor. [2017] EW Misc 27 (CC)

Executive summary

In a useful decision for local authorities, the High Court has dismissed an appeal against a county court decision in favour of Nottinghamshire County Council (NCC) in respect of its claim to recover the costs of providing residential care under Part 3 of the National Assistance Act 1948 (NAA) for the appellant’s father, WB. NCC sought to recover those costs from WB’s estate following his death or alternatively, from the appellant to whom WB’s assets had been transferred.

Background

WB was discharged from hospital to a residential care home in February 2010, living there until he died in January 2014. His care costs were paid by NCC which was obliged to recover a contribution towards those costs because of sections 21 and 22 in Part 3 of the NAA, those provisions repealed by the Care Act 2014.

NCC sought to recover £37,184.22 from WB’s estate. During WB’s life, there had been regular transfers of his assets to the appellant so NCC alternatively sought payment of those transferred sums by way of a restitutionary claim. The appellant, also representing the estate, defended the claim on a number of grounds but primarily on the basis that the care costs should have been paid by the NHS. 

NCC identified its right to recover contributions for care costs under sections 21 and 22 of the NAA pursuant to section 56 of that Act. It acknowledged that those provisions had been replaced by section 69 of the Care Act, but made it clear to the court that it was claiming under section 56 of the NAA and not the Care Act as the debt had arisen before the Care Act came into force. 

At the trial, the judge found for NCC and gave judgment against both the estate and the appellant. He also found the appellant personally liable in respect of the same sum on the restitutionary ground of unjust enrichment. The appellant sought permission to appeal which was refused on all grounds save for those relating to the jurisdiction and limitation points argued by the appellant, which were: 

  • The limitation period for the claim had expired, as section 69 of the Care Act provides that the limitation period for such claims is three years.
  • Section 56 of the NAA refers to recovery summarily, therefore only the magistrates’ court had jurisdiction to consider such claims.

The High Court’s decision

The High Court dismissed the appeal on both grounds and held that: 

  • Section 56 of the NAA is a permissive provision that enables recovery proceedings to be brought summarily but it does not require them to be brought summarily, so the county court had jurisdiction in the debt dispute as it does generally.
  • The sums due to NCC were recoverable under section 69 of the Care Act by virtue of article 3(1) and (2) of the Care Act 2014 (Transitional Provision) Order 2015 (SI 2015/995) (Transitional Provision Order), because it was a charge due to a local authority under Part 3 of the NAA which became due on or after the date on which the Order came into force. Article 3(3) of the Transitional Provisions Order preserved the time limits that applied to NAA charges before the Care Act came into force. Therefore, the effect of article 3 was to make NAA charges recoverable under section 69 of the Care Act, but subject to the section 56 NAA time limits, which for county court proceedings is six years. 

Implications

The case is particularly useful and reassuring for local authorities as, even though they believed that this was the case, this is the first time that the courts have considered the application of section 69 of the Care Act to the recovery of costs incurred for services provided under Part 3 of the NAA and section 17 of the Health and Social Services and Social Security Adjudications Act 1983 (non-residential care services), and the limitation period that applies in such cases. For that reason, the decision will be welcomed by all parties involved in such scenarios. 

For further information about Weightmans or this update, please contact Morris Hill, Associate on 0151 242 7990 or by email at morris.hill@weightmans.com

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