Norfolk ex-soldier with multiple sclerosis having to sell family home to pay care bill

West Norfolk pensioners pay thousands towards care bill for ex-Royal Artillery officer who served in Northern Ireland

by Donna Semmens Thursday, May 10, 2012
7:36 AM

 

Tim Sudbury who has MS and his wife Marion, at their home in Walpole St Peter which they are having to leave because of a battle with Norfolk County Council over care fees. Picture: Matthew Usher.

The financial struggles facing the elderly and disabled were shown last night after a former soldier suffering from multiple sclerosis said he would have to sell his family home of 30 years to pay his annual care bills.

Tim Sudbury served in the Royal Artillery for 18 years and completed three tours of Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles in the 1970s.

But he and his wife, Marion, both 66, say they are effectively being forced to sell their West Norfolk home because of the “unreasonable” amount – £11,500 – they are having to contribute.

Norfolk County council, however, said it was following national guidelines on funding which were designed to be fair, and had been backed in the case by a county court judge. It was not asking for the sale of the couple’s home and had reviewed the case as recently as March.

News of Mr and Mrs Sudbury’s plight comes just a day after a coalition of 78 charities and campaign groups warned Prime Minister David Cameron that unless he acted, millions of pensioners would be condemned to a life of “misery and fear”.

They said that a postcode lottery of access to care was leaving many in “quiet desperation”, as hefty care bills put them at risk of losing “their savings, their dignity, their independence” and urged Mr Cameron to reform the system.

Wheelchair-bound and needing extensive support, Mr Sudbury’s care budget for the year is £26,000 and almost half of that comes from the couple’s own pocket. They pay £222 a week towards the bill.

Mrs Sudbury said: “Tim was in the army and contributed to his pensions; we saved hard to ensure when we were older we didn’t have to worry and now we are just getting penalised for it.

“My advice would be not to save and not to have a pension – if we hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t be having to pay now.

“We have had endless sleepless nights over this and it has destroyed my confidence. It’s not that we don’t want to contribute – the level was fine until about four years ago when it shot up and up.

“I know we have a reasonable income, but we paid for that all our working lives. The fact we have an old house that runs on oil heating isn’t taken into account, for example. The house has to be warm for Tim and it’s very, very expensive. We are being hit very hard for not relying on the state throughout our lives.”

Norfolk County Council has a £15,000 charge on the value of their Walpole St Peter home after a meeting with Mr and Mrs Sudbury and a county court judge three years ago. It means that when the property is sold, the council will receive the lump payment as they have been unable to keep-up their weekly contribution.

“We still have a mortgage which is interest-only and it will be paid in three years, although the initial capital will need to be paid from the proceeds. We were planning to sell it then – but we are going to have to sell it now. It’s the only way out,” said Mrs Sudbury.

“This is our home, where we raised three daughters, but I am at my wits’ end with it all.

“The council is acting within the law – it will say it’s doing nothing wrong. But morally it seems so wrong that everything we have saved for, including our daughters’ inheritance, will be lost. If the charges were reasonable, we wouldn’t be in such difficulties,” she added.

NW Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said he was aware of the situation and was hoping to see Mr and Mrs Sudbury over the Whitsun break.

He added: “I want to go through all aspects of their case and see if there are any angles I can pursue.

“The county council is applying the letter of the law, and there can be some changes to that law. Iain Duncan-Smith (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) is keen to update regulations and he is trying to make sure that deserving cases are dealt with compassionately. There are lessons the government could learn from this case,” he said.

Mr Bellingham said that there was a degree of “executive flexibility” within the regulations and he would look to see, for example, if certain elements of Mr Sudbury’s care package could be reconfigured to help the situation.

Debbie Olley, Norfolk County Council’s assistant director safeguarding, community services, said: “The county council has a responsibility to follow national guidelines on charging, fairly and responsibly, and that is exactly what we have done in this case. Failure to do so would be unfair on the vast majority of people who are willing to make a fair contribution towards their care and would simply make the system unaffordable.

“A county court judge agreed with the council that it has acted reasonably in pursuing outstanding costs. The case has also been carefully reviewed by an appeal panel, which found that the charges have been correctly and fairly assessed.

“Although the council has obtained a court order relating to unpaid bills, and the sum owed has been secured against Mr and Mrs Sudbury’s house, this sum will not be redeemed until the house is sold, and the council has no intention of trying to force a sale.

“We have looked at this case as recently as March and have told Mr and Mrs Sudbury that we are unable to provide financial support towards the costs of home internet and fuel for travelling, as people who use our services are expected to fund these items from monies disregarded for everyday living expenses.”

The guidelines on how much of a contribution people make towards their own care can include means-testing, as in the Sudbury’s case. A wide range of factors are taken into account and each case depends on individual circumstances – including income and savings. Each case is assessed and factors including care requirements are considered before a contribution level is reached.

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