The cost of caring
Caring has, not surprisingly, two costs: one, the personal price tag of delivering comfort and relief, and two, the sadly all-too-real financial cost of ensuring someone who is vulnerable has access to the best care, support and assistance.
And with regards to the latter point, there is frankly no getting away from it – a decent care home, and especially one that promotes independent living, is probably going to cost around £1,000 a month, while a nursing home will command fees starting from £3,500 a month upwards.
If you have savings and own your own home, the value of these is clearly going to come under very close scrutiny, and chances are you will be expected to pay for your own care until your private resources have been exhausted (or as good as – the current figure at which benefits can start to kick in is approximately £23,000). But like everything to do with the benefits system, there is no right way to guarantee you'll be helped, and no wrong way either. It is forever, and likely to remain so, a dense fog of possibilities grasped and opportunities missed, which is why there is no A to Z of right and wrong when it comes to understanding and applying for what is yours, legally by right, and what isn't.
Even the experts will admit there is no cut-and-dry, no black and white, no action and reaction. Rather it is like a plant – an orchid, say – that might or might not show its full potential regardless of how carefully you follow Alan Titchmarsh's simple rules. And if that doesn't sound entirely encouraging, well, it isn't meant to.
It is almost certainly possible that two people from the same geographical area, of the same age, and with the same care needs will receive different responses. The benefits system, after all, is a vast, almost unknown organism that, like the internet, is all but impossible to pin down to any exact location, any specific brief, and any logical system of checks and balances. Indeed, for many people, attempting to unravel even the first basic steps of organising help to pay for the costs of care will prove depressingly daunting. But this isn't meant to paint an unnecessarily bleak picture of the benefits system but rather to highlight the fact that those who do their homework early on will, by and large, reap more than those who don't.
If there were a book entitled "The Idiot’s Guide to Care Benefits" which offered a full, money back guarantee if it failed to deliver the required results, chances are it would boast all the authority of a trashy horoscope. No, the best thing to do, no matter how unwarranted it may at first seem, is to start making enquiries as soon as you can – and that doesn't mean four weeks before you have to be resettled due to health problems.
Instead, it means collecting and collating as much information as you can, as soon as you can. And then having compiled and understood as much as time and patience will allow, keeping that information up-to-date. The benefits system helps millions of people every year get the proper level of care they require, but it isn't perfect and one of its main flaws – if not its major flaw – is that it is infuriatingly – impenetrable, inscrutable, incomprehensible, unfathomable and...poker-faced. Even for those who work in it.
The goal posts are always changing, which means to get any handle on how it thinks and works you have to study it like a bookie studies form. If you start from scratch, then yes, it is going to be a trial, but if you can at least tick off some of the fundamental answers to the questions it will ask of you, you'll have a head start. So approach those people and agencies who can help you early on, and ask friends and relatives to help too.
Local councils offer guidelines for both support and guidance and many post detailed brochures on their websites to help get you started. Indeed, the internet is a vital resource for anyone attempting to unravel the mysteries – and wonders – of the care system, and the care homes themselves can also help point you in the right direction for help.
Does it all come down to money? Of course it does, but with the right preparation, it can like any complicated mechanism, slowly start to reveal itself. But the bottom line nonetheless is to prepare, prepare, prepare.
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