Daughter defeats council over sale of elderly mother's house

Thursday, 13 February 2014
The England and Wales High Court has stopped a local authority selling an elderly lady's house to pay for her care fees, because the woman's daughter kept a room in the house while living elsewhere.

The mother is 92-year-old Mary Walford of Stourport in Worcestershire. She was admitted permanently to the Astley Hall local authority care home in November 2006, and the authority duly assessed her ability to contribute to the cost of her accommodation. Mrs Walford owned a house in Stourport called Sunnydene, and a dispute arose between the council officials and Mary's daughter Glen as to whether the value of the house should be included in her assessment, as it usually is in England.

Glen Walford's case for having Sunnydene excluded from the assessment was that she lived there. Although she rented a studio flat in London, where she worked in theatre, she also kept a bedroom, office and shed for her own use at Sunnydene, and had spent a considerable sum maintaining it, as her mother was not wealthy. She is single and her intention was to retire to her mother's house in due course – which is not far away as she is over 70 years old. The fact that she was already over 60 when her mother went into residential care, she claimed, meant that the local authority could not treat the home as eligible for the assessment.

Worcestershire rejected this and indicated it was preparing to place a charge on Sunnydene, under the highly controversial CRAG (Charging for Residential Accommodation Guidance) rules. In a letter to Glen Walford, it stated 'you have not by your behaviour used Sunnydene as your permanent home but more as a holiday home which you stay at when visiting your mother at Astley Hall.'

After a long correspondence the case eventually came to court in January. The court's decision turned on the exact wording of paragraph 2(1)(b)(ii) of Schedule 4 of the National Assistance (Assessment of Resources) Regulations 1992 and whether Glen Walford's relationship with Sunnydene fell within it. The relevant passage states that the value of any premises is to be disregarded for a residential care fees assessment if it is 'occupied in whole or in part as their home by the resident's other family member or relative who is aged 60 or over'. This test is further qualified by Section 7 of the CRAG rules.

Surprisingly, this is the first occasion that this particular issue has come before the courts. In the event, Mr Justice Supperstone, ruled that Worcestershire had applied the test incorrectly by looking at actual occupation or permanent residence at the time of Mary Walford's admission into care. It had also not properly considered the submissions made by Glen Walford regarding her long-term relationship to the property, to which she 'has a degree of attachment both physical and emotional'. He duly quashed the council's decision to impose a charge on Sunnydene, and ordered it to reconsider its assessment.

The case may set a precedent for many others if allowed to stand, but Worcestershire County Council intends to appeal it.


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