A globe trotting theatre director who fought a marathon legal campaign to save the value of her beloved childhood home from being eaten away by her mother’s care home costs has triumphed in a High Court test case which will come as a relief for elderly people and aging family members who look after them.
Glen Walford, aged in her 70s, enjoyed a career directing plays all over the world but argued that her heart had always remained at her family home in Worcestershire. By November 2006, her widowed mother, who had lived in the house since the 1930s, had become too frail to look after herself and moved into a care home.
Miss Walford, who stood to inherit the house on her mother’s death, was at first told by Worcestershire County Council that the property’s value would be disregarded when assessing the value of her mother’s capital for the purpose of calculating her care home charges. That statement was made on the basis that the property was Miss Walford’s home and that she was herself aged over 60 when her mother moved into care.
However, the Council subsequently changed its mind and informed Miss Walford that its earlier view had been mistaken and that the property would not be disregarded. The Council stated that, as the property was not Miss Walford’s permanent residence when her mother moved out, it could not benefit from the exemption contained within the National Assistance (Assessment of Resources) Regulations 1992.
In a case which raised issues on which there was no previous legal authority, Miss Walford argued that, having launched her theatre career in 1962, she had led a peripatetic existence, never owning a home of her own. Insisting that she had always viewed the property as her home, she pointed out that she kept her childhood bedroom there as well as an office, a caravan and a shed filled with her belongings.
When her father died in 1983, she had taken over maintenance of the house and garden because her mother only received a basic state pension. Miss Walford claimed that it was always her intention to retire to the property, which is why she had always rented accommodation elsewhere.
The Council emphasised that Miss Walford had rented a studio flat in London since 1983 and that her mother had enjoyed a single occupancy discount from Council Tax. However, in upholding her challenge, the Court found that the Council had adopted too narrow an interpretation of the Regulations.
Observing that ‘a home’ is a place to which a person has a degree of attachment both physical and emotional, the Court found that, on a true interpretation of the Regulations, it had only been necessary for Miss Walford to show that the property was her ‘only or main home’, not that it was her permanent residence, when her mother moved into care.
Ordering the Council to consider the matter afresh, the Court noted that Parliament’s motive for allowing the exemption was to avoid the ‘undesirable consequence’ of people aged over 60, who live with and care for close family members, losing the roofs over their heads when residential care becomes the only option.
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