Steep rises in charges for non-residential care at three councils is sparking fears that a wave of increases could endanger access to care for older and disabled adults.
Hertfordshire Council is considering abolishing its charging cap, while Poole and Derbyshire councils may raise the cap on service user contributions.
“I would expect this to be the start of a new wave of higher charges,” said Hayley Jordan, policy researcher at the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Neil Coyle, chair of the Coalition on Charging, said: “These are not the only councils looking to take off the financial limit. All councils are under financial pressure and will be looking to decrease their costs.”
Research in 2008 by the Coalition on Charging showed that, where charges were raised, people stopped receiving services and many councils were saddled with high costs for crisis intervention.
Stephen Lowe, policy adviser at Age UK, said: “There must be concern that vulnerable people who will need the benefits of the local authority arranging their care will be left without protection.”
Initial results of a survey of councils’ charging policies by national older people’s charity Counsel and Care show there are numerous councils considering increases in charges for non-residential care services.
“We are concerned about the potential impact such changes will have on older people with care needs who are trying to remain living at home, and on their families and carers struggling to support them to do so,” said chief executive Stephen Burke.
The Coalition on Charging plans to write to all councils to protest at plans to increase charges.
“Councils don’t seem to be giving people as full information and fact of what this will mean to people,” said Jordan. “It’s not giving people the full opportunity to comment on charges.”
Hertfordshire Council caps charges at £346.50 a week, but its plans to abolish the cap will push up some service users’ contributions.
The council says asking some to pay more is the fairest way to avoid cutting services.
Poole Council is consulting residents on plans to increase its cap on charges for care from £320 to £433 a week.
The council estimates this will raise an additional £478,000 a year. It said it was reasonable to expect those who could afford it to contribute and the changes would better target public funds at those most in need.
Meanwhile, Derbyshire Council has drawn up plans to introduce contributions for personal budgets holders. These will range from £23.90 to £200 a week for those with savings of more than £100,000.
Charles Jones, Derbyshire’s cabinet member for adult social care, said the charges were unavoidable. “If we continue as we are, the worst case scenario would be a budget shortfall of about £90m over the next five years,” he said.
In July, Warwickshire launched a consultation on proposals to increase homecare charges from £9.66 to £16.45, along with other charges for transport, direct payments and respite.
Andrew Cozens, adult social care lead for the Local Government Association, said it was inevitable, given the financial pressure on councils, that higher charges for some service users would be considered.
“Councils have to ask themselves whether they can afford to continue to subsidise those who can afford to pay the full cost,” he said.
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