Government issues Care & Support White Paper

September 30th, 2012

Following the recommendations made in July last year by the Dilnot Commission in respect of reforming the way in which individuals pay for their care and support, the Government has issued several documents in response to those proposals.  Perhaps the most interesting of these is entitled “Caring for our future:  Progress report on funding reform (July 2012)”

As things stand there is no cap on the amount an individual must pay towards the cost of residential care and those who have assets in excess of £23,250 will usually receive no Local Authority funding.  To recap, the key recommendations of the Dilnot commission were:-

•    There should be a lifetime cap on the total cost that individuals have to pay towards their care and a rise in the threshold at which people lose means-tested support for care costs

•    There should be universal access to a deferred payments system for those needing residential care

The good news was that the Government agrees with the principles of the Dilnot Commission’s model, however the (heavy) caveat is that this is dependent on finding a suitable way to pay for such wholesale reform of the current system.

The cost of the commission’s main recommendations could total £1.8 billion per year and, given the size of the structural deficit and the fragility of the UK economy the Government do not feel able to commit to the introduction of a new system at present.  Any decision is therefore likely to be taken at the next spending review at the earliest.

Are there any changes being implemented at this stage?
Whilst we will not yet see a decision on the key issue of capping costs the Government have taken forward some of the recommendations

The Government has taken steps to address the issue of a deferred payments system for anyone who is unable to afford care costs without selling their home, as recommended by the Commission.  To put this in context up to 40,000 people have to sell their homes each year to pay for their care.

At present some Local Authorities operate a deferred payments system allowing individuals to repay on death, however this is not universal and there are some authorities that do not offer this facility or where it is difficult to obtain.   The changes will mean that from April 2015 no one will have to sell their home in their own (or spouse’s) lifetime in order to pay the costs of care – Although in order to make this cost-neutral for Local Authorities interest will be charged on any deferred payments.

The Commission also noted that the level of need at which people become eligible for care differed between Local Authorities – this currently results in unfairness in the system as eligibility for care and support can depend on where you live.   In response to this the Government will introduce a national minimum eligibility threshold from April 2015.  There will also be changes to ensure that it is easier for individuals in care to move more freely between local authorities if, for example, they need to move to be closer to family.

There will also be further work around developing and improving the assessment process itself to ensure that there is a more consistent approach in assessing individual levels of need.
Some other key initiatives will be:-

•    The establishment of a new capital fund worth £200 million over 5 years to support the development of specialised housing for older and disabled people

•    To improve access to information about the care and support service available through a new national information website.

•    The training of more care workers to deliver high-quality care, including an objective to double the number of care apprenticeships.

•    Improving access to independent advice to help people eligible for financial support from their local authority to develop their care and support plan.

Whilst the key reform required – a cap on total costs for individuals – is not yet with us it is at least encouraging to hear that the Government agrees with this fundamental principle.    Of course this is the simple part and finding the funds required to make it a reality is not only a key challenge but could result in unwelcome surprises for the taxpayer.

In any event it looks like we may still be some way off seeing a radical overhaul of the Care and Support system and the way in which we pay for our long term care needs.