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County plans £2.9m increase in non-residential care charges to elderly and disabled


Day Centre places are allocated to the most vulnerable elderly people
Day Centre places are allocated to the most vulnerable elderly people
Chris Satori

Lancashire County Council's Conservative-run cabinet agreed to a review of non-residential care charges at its meeting on Thursday 9 November.

These charges were last increased in 2011, in an effort to meet austerity spending targets.

Non-residential care services support people with disabilities and elderly people to live as independently as possible in their community. They can also provide valuable respite for unpaid, live-in carers who would otherwise be unable to leave the house. 

These county council run services include: home care, outreach services, day care and transport, direct payment and personal budget services, supported living, and the Shared Lives Scheme. 

Current Charges

Following the increases in 2011, attendance at day centres fell off significantly, as the charges rose to over £30 per day (10am - 3.30pm - with up to 90 minutes of this spent commuting the pick-up route and pick-up/drop-off windows of 1 hour) for those whose lifetime savings are over £23,250. For those with smaller savings their financial contribution is reduced proportionately. About half are currently exempt from charges. 

Day Centre places are allocated to the most vulnerable elderly people, predominantly those with severe mobility and/or memory-loss difficulties. It is a valuable opportunity to leave the confines of the home, maintain essential social skills. It allows live-in family carers / elderly spouses an opportunity to shop and get through some of the endless unseen tasks of a carer's life. Or recover from illness themselves. For those who live alone it can be crucial to their survival and coping. To give up this service or reduce the number of days attending would not be a decision taken lightly by the service recipients or those who must care for them unpaid at home.  

The charges for home help are currently £11.96 per hour, with care usually provided via a contracted private care agency. (Unless care is provided through the Council's Direct Payments scheme in which the service user undertakes a share of the administrative work instead of an agency.)

Average real incomes have not increased since 2011, although the cost of living has, and particularly heating bills. The current full state pension is £159.55 a week, although many older women have not qualified for the full pension due to childrearing and caring comittments. The proposed increases mean that more than 1500 service users would see their care costs rise by a further £10 per week and 1 in 10 service users will see their charges raised by at least another £20 per week - and in some cases considerably more. 

As mentioned during the debate, many elderly people paid their national insurance contributions thoughout their working lives on the understanding that if they became infirm, they were making provision to recieve essential care. But to this government they are merely unproductive units and committments made to gain their cooperation when they were employees are irrelevant now. We all hope to become old in time (at least we do not like the alternative). Most of us rarely doubt it. So we should be careful in passing such sentences on our future selves. We will all want some kindness, eventually, and protection, not predation. 

Consultation begins in two weeks

An eight-week consultation giving people the opportunity to share their views about the proposed changes will be announced in early December.  A Council statement tells us that "Once completed, the results of the consultation will be considered before the new way of charging is introduced in April 2018." 

The proposed charging policy calculates how much people may need to pay towards their non-residential care based on a comprehensive financial assessment.

In line with legislation and with the current policy, people will only be charged for non-residential care according to their assessed ability to pay. Currently over 51% of people receiving non-residential adult care services are either assessed as not having to pay, are funded by the NHS or are exempt under the Mental Health Act.

County Councillor Graham Gooch, cabinet member for adult and community services, said: "The rates we currently charge people are based on 2011 figures and since that time costs have risen by over 14%. Given the county council's current financial position this situation can't continue.

"Under these proposals, as with our current policy, people would only be charged according to their ability to pay for their non-residential care.

"Inevitably some people would have to pay more, but most people would not see a significant increase in care costs.

"Of the 5,694 people paying for non-residential care services, 92% will see an increase in care charges of less than £20 per week. For more than 4,000 people, this increase would be less than £10 a week.

"It's crucial that the system is fair and as part of the ongoing financial assessment process, we already include a free check to ensure people are claiming all the benefits they are entitled to. This would continue under the revised scheme.

"The proposed charging policy is consistent with those introduced by other councils across the country and is in line with the guidelines set out by central government in The Care Act 2014."

Revising the charging policy for all non-residential care services would help to ensure the county council can cover the costs of providing them in the future by generating an extra £2.9m per year. This works out on average as an additional £500pa per service user, on top of what they pay already.  However as some are exempt or NHS funded the impact on those with even small savings, and their unpaid family carers, is likely to be heavy.  

County Councillor Gooch added: "Non-residential care covers a range of crucial services which enable people to get the care and support they need to live in their home or community for as long as possible.

"We need to change the way we charge for these services so we can continue to provide them in the future.

"This needs to be done fairly with the people who use the services being given every opportunity to let us know what they think. If the policy is approved, an eight-week consultation will begin.

"This is an important issue and we will consider it along with other key decisions at our next cabinet meeting."

View the cabinet report.