The Court of Appeal has allowed an appeal in the influential case of a woman who wanted to prevent the sale of her mother’s house to pay for her care bills.
Worcestershire County Council appealed after the high court found in favour of Glen Walford, who claimed her mother’s house was her home despite the fact that she had a flat in London, thus preventing the local authority from using it to meet their care fees.
But a panel of senior judges in the court of appeal has said this was the wrong decision.
Lord Justice Moore-Bick said: “Although circumstances may subsequently arise in which a family member or child would like to make the resident’s house his or her home, there is an essential difference in the fact that the departure of the resident and the potential realisation of the premises to pay the cost of accommodation would not be an immediate cause of the loss of an existing home.
“Of course, it is possible to postulate circumstances in which a family member or relative aged over 60 might be in need of a house and might therefore wish to move into the house vacated by the resident, but the intrinsic distinction between the two cases provides a justification for treating them differently.”
He added that the rules were not intended to create a “windfall benefit” for family members who moved into a house when someone went into care.
In 2006 Ms Walford’s mother, Mary, went into long-term residential care at a council-maintained home.
The county council assessed her assets and her property was earmarked to help pay for her care.
But Ms Walford’s daughter disputed this decision, claiming the property was her home as well – despite keeping a rented flat in London – and that she had paid for the maintenance of the house and garden since her father’s death in 1983.
Under the rules councils must disregard property which is “occupied in whole or in part as their home” by the resident’s partner or child.
A spokesman for Worcestershire County Council said: “This was an important legal challenge and we are pleased that the court of appeal ruled in our favour. There are ever-increasing demands being made on the public purse and it is important that decisions about how public money is used to support individuals are fair and consistent.
“We had to pursue legal action because we believed that in this case the council had no legal duty to fund the cost of care.”
Ian Wilson, an adviser with London-based Forum Wealth Management, said: “I regularly have clients who say they put their child’s name on the house not only for inheritance tax purposes but also for care.
“If they do it well in advance they might get away with it, but fundamentally it is an issue of whether you live there or not.”