Care Bill will not mandate face-to-face assessments in complex cases

Minister says councils will receive guidance on face-to-face assessments but will have discretion on when to use them

By Chloe Stothart

The Care Bill will not spell out the circumstances under which care assessments must be carried out face-to-face but the issue will be addressed in guidance, care minister Norman Lamb told MPs yesterday.

Speaking in a public bill committee debate on the legislation, he opposed a Labour amendment that regulations should specify when an assessment should be carried out in person.

Shadow care minister Liz Kendall had warned that face-to-face assessments were essential in many cases to enable social workers to identify the extent of people’s needs, particularly when they had dementia.

However, Lamb said that the bill already said assessments must be carried out in “an appropriate and proportionate manner”, and it should be left to local authorities to decide when they should be carried out face-to-face.

“I think that it needs to be done on an individual basis, and not mandated for specific categories of cases, because I think we could end up with unintended consequences,” warned Lamb. But Kendall withdrew the amendment, after Lamb said the issue of face-to-face assessments would be addressed in guidance made under the bill.

The legislation will require councils to carry out many more assessments, mainly of self-funders seeking to qualify for the £72,000 ‘cap’ on their reasonable care costs. The government and council leaders believe this will necessitate the outsourcing of some assessments to external providers and greater use of online self-assessments by people seeking support.

MPs also debated the level at which the national minimum eligibility threshold for care that the bill will introduce should be set. Former care minister Paul Burstow tabled a “probing amendment” – one designed to provoke debate rather than change law – that would enshrine the current ‘moderate’ threshold for care on the face of the bill.

The government has proposed a threshold in draft regulations that it believes is equivalent to the higher ‘substantial’ threshold used by the vast majority of councils. While this has been opposed by charities for being too restrictive, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has warned that the government’s proposed threshold was more generous than substantial.

Before Burstow withdrew his amendment, he said he wanted to see an overhaul of eligibility so that it was less focused on people having to prove their dependency – as with the current Fair Access to Care Services – but on promoting independence and wellbeing, in line with the Care Bill’s principles.

Lamb said this strengths-based approach would be promoted by the bill as a whole, for example by the new duty on councils to provide preventive services. On the debate about the interpretation of the government’s proposed threshold, Lamb said the government would work with council and charity leaders to “get the wording right”. Revised regulations on eligibility would be published in May, he said.

Despite criticising government cuts for forcing councils to raise eligibility thresholds, Kendall declined to say whether Labour would set “moderate needs” as the minimum threshold for care if elected. She said the party would lay out its social care proposals before the election.

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