Councils told to ‘ensure readiness’ for Care Act by appointing accountable officer to drive reforms

Local authorities must enlist ‘senior responsible owner’ to oversee Care Act reforms locally, Department of Health says

Picture credit: Burger/Phanie/Rex Features

Every council in England must appoint a senior officer to be accountable for local implementation of the Care Act 2014 reforms, the Department of Health has said.

The accountable officer – known as a senior responsible owner (SRO) – will be required to take part in three ‘stocktake’ exercises to assess councils’ readiness to implement their statutory duties under the Care Act from April 2015. The exercises will be coordinated by the DH and regional networks of the Association of Directors of Adult Services.

The requirements are outlined in a memorandum of understanding sent to councils that showed how a central government grant for Care Act implementation must be used. The grant scheme will hand every local authority £125,000 in 2014-15 to help them prepare for the reforms.

“The stocktakes will help councils identify where action is needed to ensure readiness and inform priorities for implementation support at regional and national level,” the memorandum states.

The Care Act will put a series of new duties on local authorities. As well as modernising existing social care law, it will set a new national eligibility threshold and place duties on councils to provide information and advice, preventive services and, for the first time, support for carers with eligible needs.

The Act will also, from April 2016, overhaul the social care funding system to extend means-tested support to more care home residents and enable people to gain full state funding for their ‘reasonable’ care costs once they have been assessed as passing a self-funding cap. This policy is expected to see an additional 500,000 people with eligible needs approach their council for an assessment so they can qualify for the cap.

In a separate letter to councils, the DH has also laid out the conditions councils must meet when spending their share of £1.1bn of funding that is being transferred from the NHS to support social care in 2014-15.

The funding is made up of a £900m ‘main transfer’, which councils can use to support any adult social services function that has a health benefit, and £200m of Better Care Fund money that must be spent on integrated care projects. The full Better Care Fund will be implemented in 2015-16, pooling £3.8bn between councils and NHS commissioning groups.

NHS England can insist that Better Care Fund plans have been agreed with NHS commissioners and local health and wellbeing boards, the DH said.

“The funding must be used to prepare for the implementation of pooled budgets in April 2015 and to make early progress against the national conditions and the performance measures set out in the locally agreed plan,” the DH document states.

“NHS England must therefore make it a condition of the transfer that the local authority has agreed a completed Better Care Fund plan with its partner CCG, and that this plan has been signed off by their Health and Wellbeing Board.”

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