Consumer protection guidelines
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has published consumer protection guidelines for contracts of care in long-term residential care services for older people in Tipperary. The guidelines set out the obligations and responsibilities that providers must adhere to under consumer protection law and are aimed at providing greater transparency, clarity and certainty for consumers.
Isolde Goggin, Chairperson of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission said, “The decision to move into residential care is usually taken in stressful circumstances. For many people, there are limited options to choose from and moving to another nursing home, if you are not happy, is not feasible. This means residents are particularly vulnerable. If there is a lack of transparency in contracts of care, residents and their families are at risk of being tied into terms and conditions that they don’t understand or that they would never knowingly agree to.”
In developing the guidelines, the CCPC ensured that it engaged fully with the market from both the consumers’ and suppliers’ perspectives. Engagement and research included a public consultation, meetings with stakeholders, close engagement with other regulators and a review of contracts of care which are currently in use. In this review, the CCPC found that the language used in contracts was often technical and may not be easily understood. In some cases, important information was not provided to the resident, which could prevent them from making an informed decision. The CCPC also found examples of potentially unfair terms, such as terms which allowed for significant changes to the contract with no prior consultation with the resident or their representative.
Ms Goggin commented; “It is vital that nursing homes are fair and transparent in how they draw up residents’ contracts. We have developed these guidelines to help service providers understand and comply with their obligations and in doing so set a standard for contracts of care into the future. Over the coming days, nursing homes across Ireland will be receiving a copy of the guidelines. It is now up to each nursing home provider to review their standard form contracts of care to ensure that they are in compliance with consumer protection law. After a period of time to allow for any changes to be made, the CCPC plans to again assess compliance in the sector.”
The CCPC has also published an accompanying information booklet for consumers to help them understand what they are entitled to expect in contracts of care. Residents of nursing homes have consumer rights regardless of whether they pay all or some of the costs of their care. If a resident has entered into a contract that is not in plain understandable language or if they believe that there are terms and conditions in their contract of care which places them at a significant disadvantage or may be unfair, they should write to the nursing home provider setting out their concerns. The CCPC’s website provides an information booklet and a template letter to help consumers raise their concerns with their nursing home provider.
Speaking about the implications for consumers, Isolde Goggin said; “The nursing homes sector is currently the focus of considerable attention particularly around fees and charges and a review of the Fair Deal scheme. Our guidelines will not resolve all of the issues in this sector, however, our goal in undertaking this work was to ensure that residents and their families have more certainty and clarity in what they, and the nursing home, are committing to when they sign a contract of care. If there are any changes, for example, to fees, after the contract is signed, these changes must be reasonable, taking the resident’s interests into account and be clearly communicated.
“The law protects consumers from standard form contracts which are imbalanced in favour of a business to the disadvantage of a consumer. While it is up to the courts to decide if a term is unfair, our guidelines highlight examples of potentially unfair terms in contracts of care currently in operation in the sector. Our consumer booklet provides assistance to residents who may wish to challenge similar terms if they exist in their contracts of care. I encourage anyone who is concerned or who would like to find out more about their rights to visit our website ccpc.ie.”