The government must be prepared to increase funding for councils to implement the Care Act 2014 should the existing package prove inadequate, council chiefs have said.
In a joint response to the consultation on the act’s regulations and guidance, the Local Government Association (LGA) and Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) warned that it was likely that the £470m set aside to implement the changes was inadequate.
They said the government should be prepared to increase Care Act implementation funding if analysis being conducted by the LGA, Adass and Department of Health provided “further evidence” that the £470m was inadequate.
The response quoted figures from Adass’s annual budget survey that found that substantial minorities of directors had “no confidence” that the funding allocated to them to implement the Care Act in 2015-16 would be sufficient.
Unpredictable costs from carers and self-funders
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Among its reforms, the Care Act lowers the threshold for a carer’s assessment and provides, for the first time, an entitlement to support for carers who meet eligibility criteria, at an estimated cost of £69m in 2015-16 according to the DH.
However, Adass and the LGA warned that councils remained unable to predict how many carers would come forward and, consequently, the cost of this measure. The same was true of the number of self-funders likely to come forward for an early assessment of their needs in 2015-16, in order that they be considered for the ‘cap’ on individuals’ social care costs that comes into force in April 2016. The DH has allocated £175m for these early assessments.
Although the government tightened initial proposals for national minimum eligibility criteria, after Adass and the LGA said these were was under-funded, the associations said the latest draft may also be too generous for the level of funding provided.
Their response also said that the national eligibility criteria remained too open to interpretation, raising the risk of legal challenges that could further increase the cost of the reforms.
“There is considerable concern amongst many local authorities that, in relation to the funding available to meet assessed needs, the new eligibility criteria are too widely drawn, not defined clearly enough and linked to broad areas of well-being,” it said.
The associations also raised concerns about the impact of the significant cuts to adult social care in recent years on councils’ ability to deliver on the Care Act, in particular its aim to shift the care system from crisis response to prevention.
“The financial context in which local government is operating is unquestionably impacting on adult social care budgets,” said the response. “This heightens the need for the reforms to be fully costed and fairly funded.”
The response also highlighted the tight timescales for implementation as a problem and said that government may have underestimated the costs of training social workers and other staff in the new law.
The DH has so far ruled out increasing the funding available to implement the Care Act. Speaking at Community Care Live in May, director general for social care Jon Rouse said that, should the £470m allocated prove insufficient, the DH would make the Care Act’s requirements less burndensome for councils, not increase funding.
However, in their response, Adass and the LGA said this option risked causing disappointment among service users and carers, as would delaying implementation of the act to manage the impact.
With the consultation on the draft regulations and guidance due to close on Friday, the DH said it would not comment on the Adass and LGA response at this stage.
A spokesperson said: “We will consider this response along with all other responses to the consultation before publishing our response to the consultation in the autumn.”