Proposals to strengthen self-funders’ rights to an assessment and care plan could put pressure on social workers’ caseloads and council budgets, experts have warned.
The recommendation was made by the Law Commission in its report this week on reforming adult care law – dubbed by government as the “foundation for the most significant single reform of social care law in 60 years”.
Although self-funders already have a right to an assessment if they appear to have social care needs, often only those who meet means-tested criteria for funding are given one, the Law Commission’s consultation found.
Experts say clarifying this right could cause more people to want assessments as council budgets are squeezed.
“If you are spending time with more people there’s a cost attached to that,” said Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University. “It may be twice as many people as councils are helping at the moment.”
He said this was likely to affect affluent areas the most, because they have the highest proportion of people funding their own care. “It would be the big shire counties and also some of the metropolitan areas,” said Jones, who is a former director of social services at Wiltshire Council.
Ruth Cartwright, manager for England at BASW – The College of Social Work, said she expected some adult services directors would be worried about the prospect of rocketing costs, though the impact would depend on awareness of the benefits of assessment.
“It could have a huge impact. Whether it will or not depends on people becoming aware of it and people seeing it as useful and wanting it,” she said.
However, Sarah Pickup, vice president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said revamping the law would affect only a few authorities. “It might mean that some local authorities have to assess more people but that won’t apply to the authorities that are doing what they should be.”
Despite concerns about pressure on budgets and caseloads, Cartwright said strengthening the law in this area would be the right thing to do, if accepted by government.
“It’s right that they have an assessment of need if they want one because there are families who are in danger of getting ripped off by care agencies because they are over-providing or charging too much,” she said.
The proposal could even lead to savings for councils further down the line, said Caroline Bernard, deputy chief executive at Counsel and Care. She said giving people the tools to organise their own care better could limit the numbers that need council services in the future.
More coverage of the Law Commission report
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