Hampshire ditches bid to cut deficit through tighter eligibility criteria

Hampshire Council is to drop plans to restrict adult social care eligibility to people in “critical” need despite a £10m deficit across the department.

In the middle of a 12-week consultation on the issue, leader Ken Thornber said this week that he wanted the plan to be scrapped. The decision rests with executive member for adult social care Patricia Banks, but she is unlikely to disagree.

Thornber said the authority had originally wanted to maintain services for people currently in “substantial” need but close the door to new service users in this category. But he added: “People could then say they were being discriminated against. We could be subject to legal challenge.

The easiest thing to do is to continue with critical and substantial.”

The move comes as several authorities plan to restrict eligibility for adult services in the face of financial pressures from rising demand and NHS cost-shunting.

Hampshire has been severely hit by funding problems and went £11m over budget in 2005-6. It has halved a projected overspend of £20m for 2006-7 through a series of measures, and is looking to eliminate the deficit in 2007-8. But Thornber added: “The first £10m will be easier to achieve than the second.”

He said it was unclear how much money the council would have saved by restricting eligibility because it would have had to reassess each of its 14,000 users.

British Association of Social Workers chair Ray Jones played down the significance of the decision, saying eligibility criteria, which councils must set under the Fair Access to Care Regulations, were somewhat subjective.

Ken Dufton, head of Eastleigh Community Services, welcomed the news but said the council would still have to save money and wanted to see it could achieve this without affecting vulnerable people.

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