The introduction of the Care Act (1 April 2015) has been described as the biggest change to adult social care in the past 60 years.

The Care Act consolidates all existing laws relating to adult social care and introduces other new responsibilities to local authorities with the aim of providing better support for both caregivers and the people that they look after.

Carers of disabled adults will, for the first time, be given equal footing in law to those they care for and will be entitled to an assessment of their needs, measured against national eligibility criteria (rather than local criteria) with the aim being to standardise current ‘patchy’ support. (Councils will have a legal duty to meet those needs and provide support to carers.)

In fact, the introduction of a new ‘wellbeing principle’ will underpin any decision made by a local authority and will require councils to promote a person’s wellbeing in any decision being made about their care and support.

Currently, many disabled people, their carers and charitable organisations agree that the law regarding health and social care support for adults can be complicated and difficult to understand leaving many unaware of their rights. One of the important gestures within the new framework is that all councils will need to ensure that information on the care and support available in the local area is publicly accessible. They will be required to maintain an information and advice service for the first time.

Carers groups have, for many years, been concerned that carers have been unable to access the support they need themselves in order to provide a decent level of care to their loved ones. The national criteria will protect carers from inconsistent availability of support on no better grounds than where they happen to live. Carers will now be entitled to an assessment purely on the appearance of need, and if their needs are assessed as ‘eligible’ under the new criteria, local authorities must provide services to support them and to meet their needs.

As a result of the new legislation local authorities will have a greater number of assessments to undertake, and many more people to support. As well as this, because of the wellbeing principle, factors such as mental health, inclusion, dignity and a person’s access to their community will need to be properly considered. (This includes a consideration of whether the person wishes to access work, training or further education.) Local authorities must consider care and support from the individual’s perspective, and will need to ensure that all care planning is ‘person-centred’.

The work that carers do is vital and so the new Act is likely to be welcomed from all interested parties although the issue of how it will be funded remains in some doubt amidst a climate of speculation regarding cuts to other public services.