Election stymies councils’ preparation for free personal care

Councils are not preparing to implement free personal care because they feel the policy could be scuppered by the election.

The Department of Health has said the “political uncertainty” surrounding the Personal Care at Home Bill has stymied councils’ preparations to implement its provisions by the government’s target of 1 October 2010.

The bill, which would introduce free personal care at home for people with high needs and extend access to reablement services for care users looking to regain independence, has faced opposition from Labour rebels, crossbench peers and the Liberal Democrats.

Bill faces Lords amendments

The legislation could be substantially amended in its remaining stages in the House of Lords, tomorrow and next Wednesday, leaving little time for the House of Commons to agree any changes before prime minister Gordon Brown dissolves Parliament for the general election.

In its response to a consultation on regulations and guidance under the legislation, the DH said this had “led to great uncertainty in councils as to whether the bill will receive Royal Assent”. It added: “This has been unhelpful in that they have not focused as much as they might on the details of implementation.”

Though the Tories have not opposed the bill they have been highly critical of it on cost grounds, raising doubts over whether they would take it forward were it not to pass into law before election and they took power.

Councils face struggle to implement

The DH was responding to concerns that councils would struggle to implement the bill by 1 October on the basis that many had set budgets for 2010-11 already and final guidance would not be available until the summer, prompting calls to delay implementation until April 2011.

It said it had been working with councils since the introduction of the bill last November to prepare them for implementation, but, in a minor concession, said the bill’s regulations would relax requirements for councils to assess people for free personal care within two weeks of an application from October 2010 to April 2011.

This would allow councils to stagger assessments, with those deemed eligible receiving backdated free personal care payments.

Charities oppose implementation delay

However, implementation could be delayed by an amendment to the bill, backed by the Local Government Association, that will be debated at the bill’s next stage in the Lords, tomorrow. However, crossbench peer Lord Best’s amendment to delay implementation until April 2011, has been opposed by seven leading care charities, in an open letter published today.

It said delay would have an adverse effect on many users and carers, and that the government’s concession on assessments had given councils enough time to prepare for the change.

The letter has been signed by the heads of Carers UK, Contact a Family, Counsel and Care, Grandparents Plus, Help the Aged/Age Concern, Radar and WRVS.

Concerns about costs

Amid significant concerns that the bill – whose annual cost has been estimated at £670m by the government – would be significantly underfunded, the DH defended its figures, saying they were derived from independent research by the Personal Social Services Research Unit at the London School of Economics.

It also rejected calls from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services to part-fund personal care for eligible service users by putting a cap on payments, saying all those deemed eligible should receive free care.

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