A council has been accused of treating vulnerable elderly people with contempt after rejecting calls for an urgent review of “irresponsibly low” care home fees.

Cllr Mark Young raised the issue as an emergency question at a Denbighshire County Council cabinet meeting last week but was told the matter couldn’t be debated.

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Care Forum Wales (CFW), who have launched a major campaign for fair fees, says they are baffled and angry the review hasn’t been considered.

The organisation, which represents nearly 500 independent providers across Wales, claims Denbighshire is effectively placing a “stealth tax” on families by expecting them to make up the shortfall in funding for their loved ones in care homes.

Until recently all the six local authorities in North Wales had worked closely together in a joint approach to calculating care home fees in what CFW describe as a “fee-fixing cartel”.

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But Gwynedd and Anglesey have broken ranks and announced increases of up to 25 per cent after carrying out their own reviews.

They were spurred into action after similar increases were agreed by councillors in Merthyr Tydfil who were given legal advice that it would be “unlawful” not to set their rates at a level that reflected the true cost of providing care.

The upshot is that Denbighshire now pays £6,272 a year less per person for nursing care for people with dementia than the rate in Gwynedd for exactly the same level and quality of care.

As a result, funding for a care home with 40 residents in Denbighshire would be £250,000 less than a home with the same number of beds in Gwynedd.

Cllr Young said: “We’ve seen in the media about the massive gap in the fees paid for social care by authorities across Wales.

“North Wales has had a regional approach to fee setting, which has now seen Gwynedd and Anglesey break from this with massive 25 per cent increases and two more of the six councils, Conwy and Wrexham, currently carrying out urgent reviews of the fees they pay.

“There is an issue with the inconsistency of fees across Wales, but we have a minimum wage and a minimum standard of care, and we need the Welsh Government to step in and set a minimum level of funding to deliver that standard.

“That’s not going to happen overnight and, in the meantime, we need all councils to look at themselves in the social care mirror and satisfy themselves that they are paying a fair rate to deliver that minimum standard of care.

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Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, said: “Denbighshire County Council are treating the needs of vulnerable older people and their families with contempt.

“In fairness, the significant increases in Gwynedd and Anglesey mean they have now come closer to setting rates that reflect the real cost of providing care.

“As a result, the fee fixing cartel that’s been operating in North Wales has been well and truly been blown apart."

He added: “Some local authorities – notably Torfaen, Merthyr, Gwynedd and Anglesey – are really stepping up to the plate and should be applauded but it’s clear that there are others who cannot be trusted to do the right thing.

“Without fair fees, the only way that care homes can remain viable is by charging top of fees so that they can meet those additional costs.”

He added: “Inevitably, those councillors are placing the burden on honest, hard-working families, and it all adds up to a stealth tax on them at a time when the cost of living is going through the roof.

“Why should vulnerable people in one part of North Wales be discriminated against when they’re recognised and valued much more in another part of the region? That’s what we’ve been campaigning for years."

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Cllr Elen Heaton, Denbighshire’s lead member for health and social care, said: “The council has responded to the question asked regarding care home fees during the recent cabinet meeting following the correct governance procedures.

“Every year we set the fees in advance of the next financial year for externally commissioned residential and nursing care packages, specialist care homes, domiciliary care, and community living schemes in collaboration with the North Wales Regional Care Fees Group and in consultation with providers.

“Following the regionally agreed methodology, in January 2022, a decision was taken to increase fees and to pay the Real Living Wage.

“We contacted care providers in February 2022 outlining the proposed fee increases, and then meetings with providers were held to discuss these. Whilst many providers welcomed these increases, we were made aware of some concerns regarding increased costs.”

She added: “Due to this we carried out an urgent review and as a result a further decision was taken in June 2022 to recognise this current challenge and additional uplifts to fees have been made.”