MORE THAN 300 people living in Dorset are in arrears with their social care payments. A further 101 in the Poole authority area are in a similar situation, a trade union has discovered.

The GMB submitted Freedom of Information requests to every authority in the south western region with responsibility for social care. It discovered that more than 4,000 people in the South West are trapped in debt for their social care and that almost 50 people have been taken to court by local authorities for social care debts.

Social care in England is usually arranged by local authorities but not generally free - most people face a means test, a questionnaire designed to find out how much money they could afford to pay to help with their care.

Sharon Wilde, GMB National Officer, said: “These stark figures show the UK’s social care ticking timebomb has now blown a gaping hole in families’ finances.

“The fact almost 4,000 are in debt because they’re unable to pay for their own care – or that of their loved ones – shows the system just isn’t working."

Poole and Dorset were the only authorities in the Bournemouth Echo circulation area who responded to the FOI request, meaning the true figures are likely to be higher.

The GMB said that 57 people in Poole were subjected to debt management procedures for their social care fees, with 351 in the Dorset area in a similar position. Two people in Poole were taken to court last year for their alleged arrears.

The GMB sees the issue as part of the problem with social care and the way it is funded. "Our ageing population is creating a huge demand for care staff - but caring is still not seen as a sought after career," said Sharon Wilde.

“We need a clear, coherent strategy for funding social care now and in the future. Otherwise the struggle to recruit and retain carers will become even more acute, while tens of thousands of people are plunged into debt trying to pay for the level of support that they need.”