The Care Act will see the most significant reforms in adult social care for more than 60 years.
In an attempt to escape the pitfalls of postcode lottery systems, for the first time, there will be a new national eligibility test that all councils will have to use when they assess what help they can give people who may need care and support.
As a result, wherever you live in England, or move to within the country, if you meet the national benchmark, you will be entitled to support. In addition, it may be possible to defer care costs, which will be capped at £72,000 (read on). So far so good.
Budget cuts consultation
Unfortunately, in parallel with this change, Lancashire County Council (LCC) is having to implement a £177m cut to the budget from 2015 - 2018. LCC is running a consultation on cuts to adult social care and you can have your say online at www.lancashire.gov.uk/socialcare.
The consultation lasts until 31 March 2015. The changes are due to take effect from the following morning, 1 April 2015.
LCC's online consultation states:
"From 2015 until 2018 government funding for local authorities will decrease again, and we face the huge challenge of reducing our costs by a further £177m on top of the £134m of savings we've already made,.... we have to make savings of between £45m and £80m each year for the next three years.
"These reductions will apply to the total amount of money available, not individual budgets.We propose to:
• reduce the physical disability service budget by 20%;
• reduce the learning disability service budget by 15%; and
• reduce the older people service budget by 7%.
"People assessed for social care services after April 2015 will receive less support from us than at the present time. People already using our services will be reassessed before the end of March 2016 to see if and how their support arrangements might need to change.
"For many people this will lead to a reduction in their personal budget, but it will depend on the outcome of the reassessment. When planning your support, we will consider both county council funded and non-funded services to meet your needs, and we will not jeopardise anyone's safety or leave anyone at risk."
Changes for Carers
The Care Act will also put carers on the same footing as the people they care for, by giving them the right to their own assessment and support from their local council. Carers will also be entitled to an assessment even if the person they care for does not get any help from the council, or the person being cared for does not want their own assessment.
Respite Care 'Yellow' Voucher Scheme to be replaced
In Lancashire Carers have already been receiving Carer Assessments for some years. Depending on need, Carers may be allocated a number of LCC 'yellow' short break vouchers each year which can be used to contribute toward a proportion of the cost of residential, day or home respite care, to give them a break. These are usually sent out as an annual allocation in April, at the start of the financial year, and Carers reapply around now.
LCC has sent out a consultation letter to Carers which anyone can also complete anonymously on the County Council's online consultation. This explains that the voucher scheme is being stopped, with three new schemes being introduced to replace it (more about these below).
Find out if you are eligible for help from AprilThe Council tell us that people who already receive care and support from the county council do not need to do anything. Their services will be reviewed in the normal way.
If you used short break services between April 2014 and March 2015, from 1 April 2015 you will receive a sum of money (the council's website tells us) for the year for you to spend on short break services. This will continue until a carer's assessment of your needs is done in summer 2015. If you did not use any of the short break services in 2014/15 then you will be asked to have a carer's assessment before any money can be allocated. This can be arranged by telephoning the Customer Access Centre on 0300 123 6720.
Three New Schemes
The three new methods of allocating respite support to Carers will be: Direct Payment, Planned Episodes of Care, or Rolling Respite. These are explained more opaquely in the consultation questionnaire. It's not clear from the consultation how these will be implemented or how long they will take to get into their stride. It currently takes about two months to arrange a social work assessment and another two before you hear back from it. Any services recommended then will need to complete their own assessments before they can start.
In Lancashire there are more than 100,000 carers, many of whom could be eligible for this help.
Peace of Mind 4 Carers scheme
Other help available includes the Peace of Mind 4 Carers scheme, which provides short-term emergency backup care to replace/support carers registered on the scheme in the event that they are ill, injured or otherwise incapacitated. This requires a separate assessment. Essential carers receive a wallet card and keyfobs that give the number to call to ensure that the disabled person who depends on them is not left stranded. You can find out more about the scheme on the Peace of Mind 4 Carer's website here.
According to the Care Act, people should not have to sell their homes in their lifetime to pay for care home costs. Instead, 'deferred payment agreements', which some councils already offer, will be available across the whole country.
Under the agreements some people will be able to have an arrangement with their council that will let them use the value of their home to cover the cost of their residential or nursing care. In these cases, the council would pay the residential bills and allow people to delay repaying the cost until they choose to sell their home, or until they die.
Care costs capped to £72,000
And from April 2016 there will be a limit on the care costs people have to pay. This means that no one will have to pay more than £72,000 towards the care element of the costs of meeting their needs in their lifetime, and many people will pay much less.
County Councillor Tony Martin, cabinet member for adult and community services, said: "We already provide help and support to nearly 30,000 people across Lancashire, together with 17,000 carers.
"The changes coming in April will enable even more people to get the help they need.
"These could be carers who need a well-earned break, people moving to Lancashire from another part of the country, or an older person looking to move to a care home without having the worry and upset of selling their home to pay the bills.
"So if you think you may need help, please call us to get advice about your situation."
For more information about the changes and how you might benefit visit www.lancashire.gov.uk/socialcare or call 0300 123 6725.