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Care reforms could spark legal disputes, say MPs

The government's proposed cap on long-term care costs could provoke legal challenges against local authority assessments.


by Michelle McGagh on Mar 19, 2013 at 14:33

Care reforms could spark legal disputes, say MPs

MPs have warned that the government’s long-term care reforms could lead to a deluge of legal challenges as people challenge local authorities’ assessment of their finances and care costs.

In a report on the Draft Care and Support Bill a cross-party group of MPs warns the government that the introduction of a cap on care costs of £72,000 in 2016 could create a number of disputes in two specific areas.

The cap itself is going to cause problems as it only covers the cost of the actual care, not ‘hotel costs’ like accommodation and food. The cost of care will vary from borough to borough and is set by the local authority. One council may decide care costs £300 a week and another £600 a week and it is only the amount the council decides that will count towards the cap, even if a person is paying more than this amount each week.

MPs have expressed concern about the ‘resource allocation systems’ (RAS) that will be employed by councils to determine what the notional cost of care, which will be covered by the cap, will be.

‘Both eligible needs and RAS are already highly contested areas of policy and practice,’ said the committee.

‘The introduction of a capped cost scheme, which will result in many more people being assessed and entitled to a personal budget, is likely to lead to an increase in disputes and legal challenges. We are not confident that ministers have yet fully thought through the implications for local authorities of these changes.’

It urged the government to introduce an ‘independent adjudicator’ that would settle disputes between local authorities and providers over the cost of care.

The government has accompanied the introduction of a cap with an extension to the means-testing threshold for help with care costs, which leaps from £23,500 to £123,000. However, it does not mean that those with less than £123,000 of assets will not have to pay for care as there is a sliding scale of contributions between £17,500 and £123,000. Only those with less than £17,500 receive free care.

The committee said the government should embark on a national campaign to raise awareness of the cost of care and what the government will provide.

‘Care and support are not free; there has always been means testing and charging. It is therefore not surprising that the boundary marking the divide between free NHS services and means-tested care and support is contested,’ said the committee.

The report also said independent financial advice should be put at the heart of care reforms to ensure individuals understand the different options available to them to pay for care, including deferred payment schemes.

Paul Burstow, chair of the committee, said: ‘We need care and support to be more focused on prevention and more joined up with health and housing. There is much in the government’s draft bill to welcome: it cuts through a complex web of arcane legislation that people struggle with. But there is room for improvement.

‘There is a growing imperative to join-up services so they fit around people’s lives and make the best use of resources. The whole system must shift its emphasis away from crises and towards prevention and early intervention. The draft bill helps, but we believe it could do more.’

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