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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, raises a number of issues which go rather wide in terms of the viability of the care home sector. I assure her that we are aware of many of those issues and we are in regular discussion with the representatives of those homes to ensure that the arrangements are introduced smoothly.

Subjects include areas of local capacity problems. We are instructing health authorities to work in conjunction with local authorities and providers on the NHS Plan to determine in each locality the number of beds that are likely to be needed in the future. We are also--this is apposite to the comments of the noble Baroness--working to develop a new concordat with the care home sector, to improve commissioning of long-term care and to maintain capacity and stability in the sector. That will go a long way to ensure that people get the right care at the right time and covers some of the issues that we need to examine.

We are listening to the concerns of care home owners, and we are considering the ways in which we can address the issues raised by the noble Baroness.

Baroness Barker: I thank the Minister for that answer.

Clause 61 agreed to.

Clause 62 [Power for local authorities to take charges on land instead of contributions]:

Baroness Barker moved Amendment No. 283:

The noble Baroness said: I shall not delay the Committee. Nowhere in the Bill does it say that a "deferred payment agreement" must be written. This may seem like a trivial matter, but we are talking about people who may be mentally frail and whose relatives are assisting them to decide to part with their home, which is perhaps the biggest decision that they will have to make at the end of their lives. As a matter of good practice, I believe that such things should be written down. It should be a legal requirement. I beg to move.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I can reassure the noble Baroness that statutory guidance will be issued by the Department of Health to assist councils to implement the deferred payment scheme from October. It will make it clear that written documentation is crucial for the scheme to work effectively. Written agreements will enable residents and councils to confirm the obligations that they have entered into. Moreover, residents will have to grant a legal charge over their land for deferred payment to be arranged. This will have to be in writing like any mortgage. The

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department expects councils to work to the guidance that we intend to issue regarding the documentation involved in taking a charge on property.

Baroness Barker: With that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendment No. 284:

    Page 62, line 45, after first "on" insert "the day after"

The noble Lord said: The effect of this amendment is to ensure that the debt accrued by a person taking advantage of a deferred payment agreement becomes repayable on the date after the date on which the exempt period ends. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Barker moved Amendment No. 285:

    Page 63, line 8, leave out "56" and insert "114"

The noble Baroness said: In the original Bill which was before another place, the period of grace, if one can call it that, was 28 days--28 days to complete the sale of the house. The department recognised that that was not possible and in another place it agreed to extend that to two months.

According to the National Association of Estate Agents, the average time in 2000 to complete the sale of a house is three months. That is in a time of economic prosperity and for 50 per cent of people, the timetable is closer to six months. Therefore, the Government are asking many people to do something which is not possible.

The second point to be made is that people will be arranging the sale of houses of people who have died. For most people, that will inevitably mean that they are dealing with estates and wills. When I was involved recently in sorting out the affairs of a relative who had died, I consulted a friend who was a solicitor and asked what was the normal time in which to expect those matters to be dealt with. She said that when she was in law school she was told as a trainee solicitor that it is impossible to settle a will within three months. The average time taken to settle a will is about nine months. And if a period of three years has elapsed and the will is not settled, then he should begin to be worried.

I believe that with a time of two months, the Government are asking people, at a time of bereavement, to do something which most of them simply cannot do. Therefore, my proposal is that we should extend the period to four months. That is still asking of most people something which they cannot do. In fact, I believe that six months would be more realistic. I sincerely hope that the Minister will take that point on board. I beg to move.

Lord Lipsey: I wish to speak to Amendment No. 286. A gremlin has crept up because this amendment was supposed to be ungrouped from Amendment No. 285 and, of course, I could move it in its rightful place but the thought of my own side, or indeed anyone in

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this Chamber, finding that at this time of night, I had added an extra grouping, is too much even for my broad back to bear.

This is a part of the Bill for which I am extremely grateful to the Minister. I claim some pride of authorship of it because the proposition that no old person should, in future, be forced to sell his house during his life time to pay for his care was one which was made by the minority of members of the Royal Commission. For some reason that still escapes me, it was not adopted by the majority. Although they wrote the most wonderful chapters on caring for the elderly, they apparently thought that that was a satisfactory thing to be going on in our society. I am glad that the Government have gone with the minority on this and I hope that Members of the Committee who, on other matters favour the majority, will agree with that.

I have heard the figure mentioned of 40,000 homes sold per year. That is for the birds, because I have looked at the original research. But that is not the point. The real point is the fear of elderly people, when they go into residential nursing care, that if they get better, they will not be able to go home because their home has been sold. This Bill lifts this fear.

However, as drafted, it does not lift a second fear; that is, if the carer or close relative is in the house, what happens if the elderly person dies or has to go in a home? In that case, will the carer or close relative be evicted from that home so that it can be sold to pay for the elderly person's care? I do not think there are that many cases where that has happened. Most local authorities would almost certainly prevent that from happening, but the fear hangs over many older people. The amendment is a chance to lift that fear.

My noble friend the Minister is a good and kind man. He knows that I have supported him throughout the Bill in resisting anything that incurs a single penny of extra penny of expenditure. I am the only person in this House who thinks that the definition of nursing care is, if anything, too wide rather than too narrow. Surely, after that he cannot deny me this extremely cheap measure which will lift the curse of fear from many elderly people.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Put not thy trust in the Front Bench. Perhaps I may deal first with Amendment No. 285, which seeks to extend the exempt period before payment is due and interest may be charged to 114 days.

I believe that the current provisions of Clause 6(2)(2) are already advantageous to users and their families or heirs. In addition to the deferred payment scheme being interest free for the duration of the resident's stay in residential care, delaying the payment of interest 56 days makes the arrangements an even more attractive option for those who do not wish to sell their homes on entering residential care to meet their care fees.

However, there is a balance. For the deferred payment scheme to work well and to be widely offered, it needs to be fair and attractive to all parties concerned. I believe that the current period of 56 days

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is fair to both families and local authorities. In normal circumstances I would argue that it gives time for probate to be completed and for decisions to be made about how to deal with the property without placing undue financial strain on council resources.

The noble Baroness must accept that if we extend the exempt period to 114 days we may well upset the balance and make the scheme too one-sided in terms of advantages, making it then difficult for councils to feel able to offer deferred payment agreements. There is always a balance. The longer that families and heirs have to pay the sums owed to councils, the more difficult it is for councils to offer deferred payments to other people about to enter residential care. I am the first to acknowledge the sterling support of my noble friend Lord Lipsey in these arduous debates on personal care, nursing care and, indeed, the definition of nursing care. His reward will be in Heaven, not in your Lordships' House.

Amendment No. 286 covers a number of situations including instances when a property subject to a deferred payment arrangement is the home of a third party. The basics of the charging system for residential care, as it relates to the deferred payment scheme, applies only to people with property the value of which is above the upper capital limit of the means test for residential accommodation.

Where property owned by residents continues to be occupied by certain third parties, its value is already disregarded from the means test. A point I made earlier is that regulations under the National Assistance Act require councils to disregard the value of a resident's property where it continues to be occupied by a resident's spouse or partner, another relative who is 60 or over, another relative who is incapacitated or when a child who is dependent on the resident continues to live in the property.

Councils also have discretion to disregard property where it continues to be occupied by a third party not covered by the mandatory disregards. The Department of Health already provides guidance to councils on the application of mandatory and discretionary property disregards. It reminds councils of their discretionary powers. Many councils exercise their discretion in that area and disregard property where it is occupied by a former carer who does not fall under the mandatory disregard.

The amendment would give councils the discretion to extend the exempt period of a deferred payment arrangement to allow former carers or other relatives of the resident to remain living in the property or to allow them time to make other arrangements. The amendment also appears to assume that, were councils not to have that discretion, such carers and relatives would either have to find the funds to pay the debt, including any interest that accrues, or find alternative accommodation.

As I have described, the value of a resident's property which continues to be occupied by a carer or a close relative of the resident, will be disregarded in most cases under the existing mandatory or

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discretionary property disregards. Where the value of a resident's property is disregarded, there will be no need for the resident to enter into a deferred payment agreement secured on the disregarded property. On that basis one hopes that the scenario which the amendment addresses is very unlikely to occur.

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