PENSIONERS living in Wirral care homes face paying thousands of pounds extra a year in fees, the Daily Post can reveal today.
Elderly and vulnerable people with savings face a huge hike in costs after a new system was drawn up by the local authority.
It has agreed to pay more for each of its residents after home owners claimed they were in crisis following years of underfunding.
But although it means the council will hand over around an extra £2m in the next year the move has left residents who pay their own fees facing a hefty bill because it clears the way for homes to bring fees for private payers in line.
Sean Kirby, Wirral's Care Homes Association representative, said: "This will affect private payers significantly.
"There has been years of underfunding from the council and this goes some way to bridging that but we would actually like more.
"Unfortunately though the private payers will lose out on this. Wirral has few homes, a number have closed down over the last few years so it is down to market forces.
"This new level is the rate of the council's funding but the homes will not charge less for private patients. They have faced years of very thin or non existent margins and they need to recoup some of their losses."
The new rates have been set following a report by independent consultants.
A basic residential home will be £325 a week, an extra 18% per person, and the lowest level nursing homes £378, which is 15% extra. It follows a spate of care home closures with almost 300 beds lost in the borough during 2003 alone.
Care home owners campaigned for more cash after it was feared they would be forced out of business.
And an independent report commissioned by the council revealed homes should be paid an extra £100 per person a week for care.
In Liverpool, residential care starts at £247 per week and nursing care at £380 with Sefton council paying £265 for basic residential places.
Although care homes can set their own private fee levels the council admits it is inevitably going to be at least the same as the amount the council has agreed to pay.
Kevin Miller, director of social services, said: "At the moment people are left to the vagaries of market forces.
"This sets the rate that the local authority thinks is reasonable for each home.
"Home owners can still charge what they want but I don't think any will charge less than that. It is good for private payers because it sets a guide price of what we think the fees should be for that home. This is good news for care homes. It will mean a better quality of home and a better quality of life for those people living there."