Northamptonshire council has dropped plans to introduce a £50 charge for social care assessments of adults who need to pay for their own care.
The council said today that the measure would no longer be introduced owing to feedback it had received during consultation.
Legal experts had warned that the council’s proposals, currently being consulted on, could contravene the Care Act 2014 and leave the authority vulnerable to complaints to the local government ombudsman.
Under the plans, individuals with assessable savings and capital investments above £23,250 would have faced a £50 administrative charge for an assessment of their care needs.
Caroline Barrett, a public law specialist at the Irwin Mitchell firm, said that a council setting out to introduce such a fixed charge was “clearly looking” to raise an income for its social care services.
Such proposals would be “likely to discourage many people from approaching local authorities for care and support”, Barrett said.
She added that while it has not been tested in the courts, Northamptonshire’s proposal could be argued to be unlawful under the Care Act 2014. “Section 9(3) of the Care Act 2014 specifically states that the duty to carry out a needs assessment for a disabled adult applies ‘regardless’ of the local authority’s view of the level of the adult’s financial resources,” Barrett said.
She added: “The accompanying statutory guidance also makes it clear that finances cannot be considered until the needs assessment has been completed and until the eligibility criteria have been applied.”
Paragraph 6.12 of the guidance states: “The financial assessment may in practice run parallel to the needs assessment, but it must never influence an assessment of needs. Local authorities must inform individuals that a financial assessment will determine whether or not they pay towards their care and support, but this must have no bearing on the assessment process itself.”
Mitchell Woolf, a public and human rights lawyer with national firm Scott-Moncrieff, said that the “concerning” plans would have been likely to spell trouble for the council.
“I suspect [implementing them] would lead to the council having to deal with a number of complaints, through [its own] procedures and potentially before the local government ombudsman,” he said.
A Northamptonshire council spokesman said: “This proposal related to self-funders whose level of savings and investments requires them to pay for their own social care and the fee was to cover the council’s costs in arranging services on their behalf, which local authorities are permitted to do under the Care Act.
The spokesperson added: “In light of feedback we’ve received as part of our consultation, we will no longer be looking to introduce this charge and it will be removed from the draft policy.”