Essential guide to the new Care Act
The new Care Act 2014 is mainly concerned with adults and their adult carers and the government says the changes being introduced are designed “to make care and support, and the way we pay for it, clearer, easier to access and more consistent across the whole of England.”
The Act is being introduced in two phases. The first phase was enacted on 1st April 2015 and the second phase will come into force in April 2016.
Changes introduced in April 2015 included:
- How local authorities should carry out carer’s assessments and needs assessments.
- How local authorities should determine who is eligible for support.
- A number of new obligations, including personal budgets and deferred payments.
Changes to be introduced in April 2016 include:
- How local authorities should charge for residential and community care.
- The introduction of the ‘care cap’.
National eligibility criteria
The new Act has introduced the same eligibility threshold across the country, which means access to care and support should no longer be a post code lottery.
People are entitled to have their needs met by their local authority if they fit the ‘eligibility criteria'; they live in that local authority; and one of the these conditions apply:
- the care they need is available free of charge
- they cannot afford to pay the full cost of their care
- they ask the local authority to meet their needs
- they do not have mental capacity, and no one else to arrange their care
- their total care and support costs exceed the cap that comes into force in April 2016.
The new eligibility criteria cover people who have care needs as a result of a physical or mental disability or illness which means they are unable to achieve at least one of the following:
- Basic activities (such as eating, washing, dressing, going to the toilet, moving about the home, cleaning the home).
- Maintaining family or personal relationships.
- Working, volunteering, or studying.
- Accessing community facilities.
- Caring for a child.
Under the Act, local authorities must provide a personalised care and support plan (or a support plan for carers). People will also have a legal right to receive a personal budget which can be used by service users or carers to request a direct payment, so people can arrange their own care if they wish to.
However, personal budgets paid by local councils to people considered ‘eligible’ under the Act will only cover the cost that the Council would pay if they were sourcing the care themselves and people may have to pay top-up fees themselves.
Deferred payment agreements
Under the new Act, all local councils in England have a legal duty to offer deferred payment agreements to enable people to use the value of their homes to help pay for care costs. If eligible, the council will help to pay for care home bills which you can delay repaying until you choose to sell your home, or until after your death.
Support for carers
One of the big changes to be introduced by the new Care Act is that local councils have a new duty to promote people’s ‘wellbeing’ and this applies to carers for the first time.
Carers have a legal right to be assessed for local authority support – in recognition of the valuable contribution that carers make to society. If eligible, the support will usually be provided for free.
CarersUK provide some detailed advice on how the new Care Act impacts carers.
Human Rights protection
For the first time people receiving care through their local council either at home or in residential care are now protected by the Human Rights Act and can use this law if they believe they are receiving substandard care. However, this protection is not available self-funders or those people who privately arrange their own care.
Accessible information and advice
Under the new Act, local authorities must now provide an Information and Advice service about available care and support, as well as independent financial advice on care funding, that is accessible to everyone – not just service users.
Focus on prevention
The new Act gives local authorities new duties to maintain the health of service users rather than dealing with people after a crisis or emergency. This ties in with the previous point about access to information as it will help people make better decisions about the care and support they need well before reaching a crisis point.
The new ‘care cap’
From April 2016 there will be a maximum cap of £72,000 on total care costs for those judged eligible for either care at home or residential care.
Once the cap is reached, the local authority is responsible for all further costs to meet the person’s eligible needs. Importantly, this care cap should prevent people from losing life savings to pay for their care.
However, the cap does not include living costs or allow for refunds on payments made before April 2016. Also, if someone chooses to pay for more expensive care services, the local authority would not be responsible for these extra costs.
New means-tested thresholds
From April 2016 the upper capital limit for residential care where the value of someone’s home is included will rise from £23,250 to £118,000. If the value of the home is not included, the upper limit will increase from £23,250 to £27,000. The lower capital limit will rise from £14,250 to £17,000.
The significance of these changes is that from April 2016 people who have capital and were receiving help from their local authority might receive more help, and people who were self-funders might, for the first time, receive help.
Detailed guidance on the new Care Act is available from the Department of Health on the GOVUK website here.
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Government policy throughout the UK, including enquiries about local authority care homes and needs and financial assessments –
Northern Ireland: www.northernireland.gov.uk