Explaining care and the Care Act

This page aims to explain the care system and the new Care Act. It highlights what people potentially going into care can expect in terms of their entitlement, levels of services, level of local authority funding and financial considerations.

The care system explained

Until recently the legislation surrounding care provision in the UK has been confusing which has made it hard to know what you’re entitled to. There also hasn’t been enough information about how to make the right choices and how to get access to the right care and support.

The new Care Act 2014, which is being implemented in two parts, has updated and simplified the system whilst adding some new duties and rights regarding means testing and the funding of services.

There are several ways to access the care system – a self-referral, a referral from your carer, friend or family member or from a professional such as your GP, with your permission. You can find details of your local authority by visiting the local government website.

Once your local authority is aware that you may need care then it has a duty to carry out a ‘needs’ assessment. This is a right and should not be affected by your financial or other circumstances. Once the assessment is completed, your local authority, using nationally set criteria, will decide whether you are eligible for care services. If you are identified as eligible, then your local authority has a legal duty to arrange or provide the services to meet your needs.

They will carry out a financial assessment or ‘means test’ to establish how much (if anything) you would need to contribute towards the costs of any services provided to meet your needs. They will also provide information about general fee levels in your area, from different providers, and follow the new national guidelines when processing the means test.

Once the assessment has been completed, a care and support plan will be discussed, agreed and put into writing. You or your representative will receive a copy of this plan as it documents the services that you have been assessed as needing and how they can be arranged.

Once a service is provided it will be checked or reviewed to confirm that it is appropriate for your needs. There will also be a review to make sure your needs and financial situation haven’t changed between the assessment and the provision. Even if you have been asked to pay the full cost of meeting your needs, this does not result in the local authority relinquishing its duty of care with regard to how you are supported. A reassessment can be requested each year, to make sure that the level of services you require remains adequate for your needs.

The Care Act

From April 2015 all local authorities must provide an information and advice service that is accessible to everyone in the local population, along with access to independent financial advisors. This must include types of care and support and how to access them.

What is the Care Act? from Skills for Care

More information about the Care Act can be found on GOV.UK.

The Care Act says that people will be entitled to have their needs met when:

  • Their needs fit the eligibility criteria (see definition below)
  • They are residents in that local authority
  • Any of the following five situations apply:
    1. The type of care and support they need is available free of charge
    2. The person concerned can’t afford to pay the full cost of their care and support
    3. The person concerned asks the local authority to meet their needs
    4. The person concerned doesn’t have mental capacity and has nobody else to arrange their care

Eligibility for care results when someone has needs as a result of physical or mental disability or illness which means that they are unable to carry out one or more of the following basic activities:

  • Eating, drinking or preparing meals
  • Personal hygiene e.g. washing
  • Toileting
  • Getting up and dressing
  • Getting around and cleaning and maintaining the home
  • They are unable to maintain family or personal relationships
  • They are unable to work, volunteer or take part in training or education
  • They are unable to access community services or facilities, including for leisure and having fun
  • They are unable to care for a child

Under the current law, only people with less than £23,250 in assets and a low income receive help from the state with their care and support costs. The Care Act changes mean that from April 2017 people with around £123,000 worth of assets (savings or property) or less will start to receive financial support if they need to go into a care home. The amount the Government will pay towards the costs of someone’s care and support will depend on what assets they have.

The new social care legislation focuses on prevention rather than crisis management. Local authorities are required under the Care Act to provide preventative services to maintain the health of service users rather than dealing with them after an emergency or crisis point has been reached. These services must prevent peoples’ care needs from deteriorating so that they can make informed and considered decisions about their care and support needs in a timely manner. The information and advice provided will need to include both information on health conditions and their management as well as on social care provision.

Anybody receiving publicly funded or arranged care (even if it is privately funded) is now protected by the Human Rights Act. This will allow them to argue that substandard care has breached their ‘human rights’ which are protected by law in such situations. This protection is not afforded to people who self-fund and privately arrange their own care.

Under the new Care Act, local authorities will have increased responsibilities for checking on the care providers in their area. If a care provider is failing, then the local authority will have a duty to ensure that care needs are met seamlessly and are not disrupted.