New Care Act ‘puts wellbeing and welfare of vulnerable people first’

IM LLP Logo 2015Specialist public lawyers have described the introduction of the Care Act in April as the biggest change to adult social care for more than 20 years and have revealed how the legislation will ensure both vulnerable people and carers have a greater understanding of their rights.

Set to be in force from April 1, the Care Act 2014 consolidates all existing laws relating to adult social care and introduces some other brand new duties,  with the aim of providing better support for those who require care and support. The key changes include:

  • New rights for carers – for the first time, carers of disabled adults will be given equal footing in law to those they care for. They will be entitled to an assessment of their needs. If “eligible” needs are identified by reference to new national eligibility criteria, councils will have a legal duty to meet those needs and provide support to the carer.
  • The introduction of a wellbeing principle – this will underpin any decision made by a local authority and will require councils to promote a person’s wellbeing in any decision being made about their care and support.
  • The introduction of the national eligibility criteria – this will replace the current system where eligibility can vary from council to council. If a person has a care assessment and their needs meet the new criteria, regardless of where they live their needs will be met.

Irwin Mitchell’s public law team, which specialises in representing disabled people and their loved ones in relation to health and social care issues, have said the new Care Act is a vital step forwards in supporting the most vulnerable members of society and those looking after them.

Caroline Barrett, a specialist public lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “The current law in relation to health and social care support for adults is complicated and inaccessible. Many people are simply unaware of the rights they have.

“The new Care Act provides clarity on what both disabled adults and their carers are entitled to, and ensures that their welfare comes first. It should also create consistency across the country in relation to the level of support available.

“Importantly, all councils will need to ensure that information on the care and support available in the local area is publicly accessible, as they will be required to maintain an information and advice service for the first time.

“This is the biggest change to adult social care in two decades and it places an important emphasis on ensuring those who need support the most are able to access it. Providing that adequate funding and support is given to local authorities, the Care Act should bring about greater rights for disabled people and their carers, and is to be welcomed.”

Carer’s rights

Looking at the new rights for carers of disabled adults, Caroline said: “Carers have been entitled to assessments for some time, but there has been inconsistency across the country about when and whether support was provided to meet their needs.

“To date, local authorities have not been under a specific duty to provide services to meet a carer’s needs.  The changes to legislation brought about by the Care Act will change this.  Carers will be entitled to an assessment purely on the appearance of need, and if their needs are assessed as “eligible” under the new eligibility criteria, local authorities must provide services to support them and to meet their needs.

“There will be a lot of carers who perhaps were not receiving any support under previous legislation, or were unaware of their rights, so it is vital that this change is supported with a proper campaign to raise awareness among carers.

“Local authorities will now need to consider the carers in their local area. Many carers will now need to be reassessed under the Care Act, to ensure they are provided with the support they are now entitled to. This is likely to amount to local authorities having a larger number of assessments to undertake, and many more people to support. While this may be difficult, it is ultimately a legal right, and it is important that sufficient funding is provided to local authorities so that they can comply with these important duties.”

Wellbeing principle

On the wellbeing principle, Caroline explains: “This new principle will mean that the wellbeing of those involved must be taken into account in any decision that a council makes – whether it is changes to budget, policies on social care or decisions on funding in individual cases. The local authority has to ‘promote’ an individual’s wellbeing by the decisions that are taken.

“Several key factors must be taken into account when considering wellbeing. These include issues such as mental health, inclusion, dignity and a person’s access to their community. This includes a consideration of whether the person wishes to access work, training or further education. Local authorities must consider care and support from the individual’s perspective, and will need to ensure that all care planning is ‘person-centred’.

National eligibility criteria

Caroline added: “After care assessments have been carried out, local authorities must apply ‘eligibility criteria’ to determine which of those needs are serious enough to require intervention and support.

“Too often in our work on behalf of vulnerable members of the community, we see the inconsistencies and difficulties which can be caused when eligibility criteria used by councils varies from region to region. The current system allows local authorities to create their own policies based on national guidance, and some local authorities operate tougher criteria than others.

“The introduction of national criteria means that this kind of postcode lottery on care and support should be removed, ensuring a consistent level of support for those who need it, regardless of where they live.”

Financial changes

There are numerous other changes coming into force with the new Care Act, including proposed new changes to financial eligibility.

Caroline explains: “These financial changes will not take effect from April 2015, but are likely to be in force from April 2016. The proposed  changes should ensure that more people are eligible for state-funded care, as the ‘thresholds’ at which people need to pay for their own care will be increased.

“People will also be expected to pay less towards the costs of care over their lifetime with the introduction of a “cap” on care costs. It is currently proposed that this “cap” will be £72,000. Once people have spent £72,000 towards their care, the local authority will step in and pay the rest. The cap will also be lower for people who develop needs whilst they are still of working age, and will be set at £0 for people who have eligible needs upon turning 18.

“These are really important changes which will make many more people eligible for state-funded care. However it is vital that appropriate funding and support is provided to local authorities to ensure that this is properly implemented.

“Local authorities have suffered huge funding cuts in recent years. Whilst the Care Act contains some very welcome changes which will protect the rights of disabled people and their carers, without adequate funding the new legislation will be rendered meaningless.”

More information on the Care Act 2014 can be found online here.

Caroline Barrett of Irwin Mitchell will be hosting a Twitter Q+A on 1 April at 1pm – visit @irwinmitchell for more details.

Associate News is provided by Legal Futures Associates.
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