Cap on care costs: government reportedly planning delay of a year

Council leaders welcome reported delay but warn that funding allocated for reforms should be retained and used to shore up adult social care budgets

Photo: Zerophoto/Fotolia

Council leaders have welcomed reports that the government will delay implementing its cap on care costs for a year, but warned that the funding allocated to the reform should be retained by authorities.

The Times reported today (behind paywall) that the government would postpone the adult social care charging reforms until October 2024, as part of measures to reduce government spending initiated by incoming chancellor Jeremy Hunt.

The story follows Hunt’s response to a question from former care minister Helen Whately on Monday, in which he declined to commit to implementing the reforms.

However, at Prime Minister’s Questions today, Liz Truss did commit to delivering the changes, which also include making the means-test for accessing care much more generous, also in response to Whately, but did not comment on the timescales.

The Local Government Association called for a six-month delay to the changes in August of this year, while the County Councils Network (CCN) urged a 12-month deferral in a recent report.

Both warned that a perceived lack of funding for the reforms and significant recruitment demands – particularly for social workers – would mean implementation in October 2023, as planned, would damage services at a time of already significant pressures.

Councils ‘must keep reform funding’

The CCN welcomed the report that the government would delay the reforms, but warned the funding allocated must be kept by councils and reprioritised, rather than retained by the Treasury as part of Hunt’s wider plan to reduce debt.

Network adult social care spokeperson Martin Tett said: “With local authorities facing severe workforce and inflation-fuelled financial pressures, they would be impossible to implement in the timescales without making services worse and leading to longer waits for a care package for people on day one of their introduction.

“But while the implementation of the reforms should be delayed, the funding committed next year must be retained by councils and reprioritised, not used as a saving as part of the government medium-term fiscal plan.”

Hunt is due to unveil the plan on 31 October, when any decision about the charging reforms will likely be announced.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has allocated £771m to implement the reforms in 2023-24, most of which (£490m) will go on the extention to the means-test, with the rest meeting implementation and assessment costs.

Six councils ready to start early implementation

It is unclear what any delay would mean for the six authorities – Blackpool, Cheshire East, Newham, North Yorkshire, Oxfordshire and Wolverhampton – due to implement the reforms six months earlier than the rest of the country, from April 2023. The so-called trailblazers are due to start carrying out early assessments of people who want to be considered for the cap and extended means-test from the end of this month.

The LGA said it was “encouraged” by reports of a delay, but backed the trailblazers continuing, with the deferral allowing more time to learn from them.

“A delay would mean that government has time to learn from the trailblazers and ensure that the funding and support is in place for councils that will ensure successful implementation of the reforms,” said David Fothergill, chairman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board.

While not calling for the charging reform funding to be retained for councils in the event of a delay, Fothergill said councils should be able to keep the separate resource allocated to paying providers a fair cost of care. This is worth £162m this year and £600m in each of 2023-24 and 2024-25.

‘Fair cost’ money ‘not substitute for funding core pressures’

“Whilst a delay would help in relation to implementation of the cap on care costs and increased capital limits, it is important that the funding allocated to move towards paying a fair price for care is still made available so that councils can begin to increase the fees paid to providers to more sustainable levels,” said Fothergill.

However, he stressed the fair cost funding was “not a substitute for funding inflation and wage pressures, which government must also fund to avoid market failure”.

He said that, while councils were supportive of the reforms in principle, the government needed to take account of these cost pressures in determining resources for their implementation.

Delaying the reforms would have echoes of previous decisions by Conservative-led governments to first defer, and then drop, similar changes.

‘Deja vu’ on reform delay

These had been due to come into force in 2016, before being delayed until 2020. Theresa May’s government then scrapped them altogether in 2017.

This was alluded to on Twitter by the policy manager for health and social care at public finance body CIPFA, Eleanor Roy.

Meanwhile, King’s Fund senior fellow, social care, Simon Bottery warned that delaying the reforms could foreshadow their abandonment.


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