Care Act relaxations removed from statute books four months after decision to do so

Easements enabling councils to suspend assessment and support planning duties, and limit obligation to meet need, no longer in force, but temporary register of social workers stays in place

The front cover of the Care Act 2014
Photo: Gary Brigden

Provisions in the Coronavirus Act 2020 allowing councils to suspend parts of the Care Act 2014 have finally been removed from the statute books, four months after the government’s decision to do so.

The so-called Care Act easements allowed councils to suspend duties to assess needs, carry out financial assessments and make support plans. They also enabled authorities to refuse to meet needs they would normally be under a duty to meet so long as they did not breach the person’s human rights in the process.

The measures, introduced in March 2020, were designed to enable councils to respond if a spike in demand and a depletion of their workforces meant they were unable to fulfil their duties under the Care Act. However, they were strongly criticised as undermining people’s entitlements to care.

They were used by eight of the 152 councils with social services responsibility in England, but not since the end of June 2020.

In March this year, the government said it would be removing the easements, but the regulations enabling it to do so only came into force last week, having been approved by both Houses of Parliament.

Meanwhile, in its latest two-monthly review of the Coronavirus Act, the government said the temporary register – allowing about 13,000 former social workers who have left the profession since March 2018 to practise – would remain in place for now. This was installed to enable employers to respond to depletions in their workforce, caused by sickness or self-isolation, as well as spikes in demand.

A survey in the spring found that just 100 temporary registrants were practising and the previous review of the Coronavirus Act, in May 2021, had said that the government intended to close the register “in the coming months”.

However, this language has removed from the July review of the Coronavirus Act, which simply said that, when the register could be safely removed, the government would work with Social Work England, which manages it, and the Local Government Association to ensure temporary registrants and employers have sufficient notice of the change.

In May, Social Work England chief executive Colum Conway said he wanted to see the register close sooner rather than later, while last month the LGA said that the longer it continued, the less able the regulator would be to regulate those who did not meet the standards required to join the full social work register.

The apparent shift in position from the government may reflect the rising number of people having to self-isolate due to being a close contact of someone who tests positive for Covid-19. In the first week of July, just over 380,000 people were identified as a close contact, the highest figure since mid-January, at the peak of Covid-19’s second wave.

Meanwhile, the Department for Education’s latest survey of councils in relation to Covid’s impact on children’s social care identified a slight uptick in authorities reporting high numbers of social workers being off work because of Covid-19 in mid-June. At that time, 3% of authorities reported 10% of their children’s social workers being off work because of the virus, up from 1% in May 2021, but well below the May 2020 peak of 13%.

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