Preserved problems

end of preserved rights for care home residents is a headache for councils,
writes Gary Vaux.

April 2002, people in residential homes who have "preserved rights"
to higher rates of income support will have those rights removed. The
government has decided that the "extra" money that they have been
putting into these cases, which are a hangover from the pre-1993 method of
funding residential care, will be given to local authorities instead.

there are problems with this. Some councils think the Department for Work and
Pensions has underestimated the numbers of people with preserved rights in
their area. This could be caused in part by some preserved rights cases being
held in manual files in local Benefits Agency offices, and not being picked up
in the computerised sweep.

amount of funding per claimant is also leaving some local authorities
under-funded – they have been told by the Department of Health that they
mustn’t cap their funding at the old preserved rights figure if their normal
contract rate for buying care is higher. Some homeowners are also using the
abolition of preserved rights as the green light to increase charges.

with higher fees brought about by the introduction of free nursing care
(Welfare Rights, 7 February), the impact could be massive. One council
estimates that the overall effect will be a loss of over £1.7m as a result of
taking on the preserved rights cases. This is without taking into account the
high cost of administration and assessment.

if the total sum of money made available is correct, the distribution mechanism
seems to be leaving some councils worse off – and it is no consolation that
neighbouring councils may be quietly making a profit!

social services departments are also encountering difficulties with local
Benefits Agency offices being unwilling to exchange information. This is making
assessing clients financially very difficult for councils. An income support
circular advises Benefits Agency staff that they cannot disclose information
about preserved rights customers’ benefit entitlement to councils without
signed authorisation from clients or their appointees.

authorities thought that section 51 of the Health and Social Care Act 2001,
which enables any income support information in a preserved rights case to be
supplied to the relevant local authority, would be the means by which
information is shared. As local authorities now have to obtain signed
authorisation for all individual cases, this is significantly adding to the
time and cost of the assessment process. Some authorities are unlikely to be
able to complete the financial assessment task before April. This will have
serious implications for both clients and homes.

Benefits Agency’s view is that records about individual preserved rights
residents will have been collected specifically for the purposes of assessing
income support entitlement and cannot routinely be disclosed to third parties
under data protection principles. The Benefits Agency appears to be technically
correct in the line it is taking on disclosure of information. But this is of
little consolation to hard-pressed councils when, acting in the client’s best
interest, they want to get the charges issue settled in time. Few clients have
appointees, and the practical and costly difficulties involved in obtaining
crucial information from clients who are severely disabled, distressed or
mentally confused is adding to the problems caused by the transfer of

Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer
queries in person, either by post or by telephone. If you have a question to be
answered in Welfare Rights, please write to him c/o Community Care

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