Our latest investigation into personal care has found that, over the last five years, local councils have made restrictions on who they will support and the levels of financial assistance they’ll provide.
Many of us, at some point, will need to contend with arranging care – whether it’s for ourselves or for someone close. And with today’s life expectancy increasing, this will only gain more significance over time.
Using Freedom of Information requests, we found that more than 80% of councils in England and Wales now only support people deemed to have ‘substantial’ or ‘critical’ care needs.
When we first surveyed councils back in 2009, this proportion was around 70%. Back then 26 councils told us they would also support those with needs assessed to be ‘low’ or ‘moderate’ – of those, only 12 continue to do so.
Some councils, though, have bucked the trend. Sunderland, for example, continues to support all four levels of need. The council claims that its strategy remains cost effective because lesser needs can be prevented from developing into conditions more costly to support if care is provided.
The cost of care is a postcode lottery
Unlike NHS care, personal care isn’t automatically free at point of use – and as well as examining your care needs, councils carry out a means test to determine the level of financial assistance they’ll provide. In England, those with savings of more than £23,250 (called self funders) are liable for the full cost of their care.
Over the past five years, we’ve seen the hourly rates of personal care go up dramatically in some areas while staying relatively stable in others. Around a third of the 100 councils who responded about care charges in 2009 and 2013 have increased charges above the rate of inflation. Barnsley Metropolitan Council has increased its hourly rates the most, by 160%. This compares to Tower Hamlets London Borough Council, which has maintained a zero charge policy and remains the least expensive council for care costs.
Depending on where you live, charges can range from around £6 to over £20 per hour. A postcode lottery clearly prevails when it comes to the cost of care.
Councils up weekly care caps
Some councils, though, choose to cap the amount self funders would be required to pay per week. For more than four years, Sunderland had a cap of £108.70 – but in the past year (as a measure to bring it in line with other councils) this has quadrupled to £400.70, showing that it isn’t immune to the budgetary stresses of other authorities. Still, it remains one of a fast-dwindling minority of English councils that has a cap at all. Back in 2009, two thirds had a cap, yet only 31% do today.
In Wales, all councils have a cap of £50 per week, and in Scotland and Northern Ireland, personal care is provided free of charge to those with eligible needs.
Better information and advice on care
With such varying changes in eligibility and care costs, we’re calling on the government to make sure that elderly people and their families get better information and advice about the care they’re entitled to and how much they will need to pay.
The Care Bill will place new duties on local authorities to give everyone better information and advice, not just those who are eligible for care. We want councils to provide information that’s tailored to individuals. We also want to see greater transparency from local authorities over the provision of care and greater consistency in the way they charge.
With councils having to balance increasing need against budget constraints, it’s an open question as to which measures could make home care a service we could all reasonably expect at a manageable cost.
What do you think about the widening postcode lottery for the cost of care in the home? How do you think the system could be improved?