The UK’s 6.5 million carers have always been somewhat neglected and taken for granted in society. In fact, those who look after sick, disabled, mentally impaired or older loved ones, saving the NHS some £87 billion every year, are often described as an ‘invisible army’.
By Charlene Hughes, solicitor at Hyphen Law
On 1 April this year, the Care Act came into effect representing the biggest overhaul of the social care system in nearly 70 years. It made sweeping changes to adult social care in England and is set to have a huge impact on individuals, carers, local authorities, health and social care providers to name a few.
Significantly for carers, for the first time ever, they will be stepping out of the shadows and will have the same rights to assessment and support as the people they care for on a regular basis.
But what does it all mean exactly? How will this landmark legislation affect the day-to-day lives of carers? And how will it all work in practice?
Here are some key pointers that summarise the most important aspects of the legislation in a nutshell:
- Introducing the wellbeing principle – the promotion of wellbeing is the driving force behind the Care Act. Wellbeing has a broad definition and includes: personal dignity, physical and mental health, protection from abuse and neglect and control over day-to-day life and participation in work, education or training. Importantly, the wellbeing principle applies equally to carers and those with care needs.
- Getting access to information and advice – local authorities now have a duty to provide an information and advice service to everyone in their area (not just those entitled to funding and support) about the types of care and support available, including how to access independent financial advice.
- Understanding assessment rights – carers now have a legal right to be assessed for local authority support. This assessment must be provided to everyone who appears to need care and support regardless of their finances or whether the local authority thinks their needs will be eligible. Carers’ assessments will be a useful way to gain a detailed picture of the carer’s role, how it affects their life and determining the level of support they need. It is hoped that this support will mean carers can maintain their caring role for longer.
- Are you eligible? – the Care Act puts in place an eligibility threshold across the country setting a national level to assess if needs qualify for funded services. This replaces the old system which allowed local authorities to choose between four levels of eligibility creating differences depending on your postcode.
- Prevention is better than cure – the new legislation rebalances the focus of social care on preventing and delaying needs rather than only intervening when situations reach crisis point. Local authorities have a duty to provide or arrange for services, facilities or resources which will prevent or delay people’s care needs from deteriorating, empowering individuals and carers to make informed and considered decisions about care and support things get worse.
- Personal care plans – local authorities have a legal duty to provide a personalised care and support plan for individuals or carers to meet their needs. Individuals should be involved in developing their plan with help from family or an advocate, if required. And for the first time, the Care Act provides people with a legal entitlement to a personal budget which breaks down the cost of care and support – even if care is not being provided by the local authority – and this must be included in every plan.
- Paying for care – in most cases, the local authority will not charge for providing support to carers. However, if there is a charge, the local authority must carry out a financial assessment to decide what the carer can afford to pay. If a carer has eligible needs but has assets above the financial threshold, then the local authority can charge for services. The personal budget will include the amount the carer will pay, if any, and the amount the local authority will pay.
- Looking after disabled children – thanks to an amendment to the Children and Families Act 2014, the right to receive support has been extended to parent carers looking after a disabled child under the age of 18. In addition, there is provision in the Care Act for a parent of a disabled child to ask for an assessment of their caring needs before their child is 18. When a local authority carries out such an assessment, it has the power to provide support to the carer even though they are caring for a child, not an adult.
Caring for a loved one can take its toll both physically and emotionally. It is therefore vital that the right level of support is offered. The new Care Act is a huge step forward. It means millions of carers could get additional help, such as respite care or direct payments, putting them for the very first time, on an equal footing with those they care for.
The coming months will be challenging as local authorities, carers and health and social care agencies develop new ways of working within the framework of the new legislation.
If you need more information, the specialist team at Hyphen Law can help, contact them on telephone: 0845 160 1111 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.