The long-running dispute over services covered by Scotland’s free personal care policy could go before the courts after the Scottish executive renounced responsibility for the issue.
Councils and disability and older people’s groups say a letter from executive officials to social work directors that was intended to settle the issue had failed to do so. Council representative body the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities says court action is almost inevitable.
The letter – issued after months of talks between the executive and various groups – was supposed to clarify whether councils could charge for work undertaken by care staff to prepare food for recipients of free personal care.
But it says only that councils “may” regard simple tasks considered to be assistance with food preparation as care “not ordinarily charged for”, and that ultimately the courts should decide how the law should be interpreted.
Association of Directors of Social Work president David Crawford said the letter “doesn’t take us anywhere”.
“It says we may regard some simple tasks to be free, but equally we may not. It doesn’t clarify anything.”
Cosla health and social care policy manager Alan McKeown said: “This provides no protection to councils against a legal challenge or clarification on what they are required to do.”
He said Cosla may fund a council to apply to the Court of Session, Scotland’s supreme civil court, for a ruling on the policy because “we don’t want individual councils to be taken to sheriff courts”.
Thirteen of Scotland’s 32 councils charge for food preparation because they say executive guidance allows them to do so.
But Andy Sim, policy officer at Age Concern Scotland, said some of these councils were flouting the act by charging for “simple tasks”, such as reheating tins of soup, because they regarded them as preparation.
A Scottish executive spokesperson said it did not want to be prescriptive on what the policy should cover.
But he said simple tasks, such as cutting up food, should be free while councils should be able to charge for preparing food from scratch.