Councils piloting the cap on care costs have paused their work after the government announced a two-year delay to the policy.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is in talks with the six ‘trailblazer’ authorities about the way forward after chancellor Jeremy Hunt put back the implementation of the adult social care charging reforms to October 2025, in last week’s autumn statement.
The reforms encompass the £86,000 cap on people’s personal care costs, as measured by what their local authority would spend on meeting eligible needs, and an increase, from £23,250 to £100,000, in the savings limit below which people can get state funding for care. They will also enable self-funders to have their local authority arrange their placement in a care home, at council rates, through the full implementation of section 18(3) of the Care Act 2014.
On the original timetable, the trailblazers had been due to implement the reforms six months ahead of other authorities, in April 2023, while also carrying out early assessments of self-funding care users who wanted to be considered for the cap or extended means-test.
These had been due to start last month, but were paused when it was first rumoured that the government would delay the reforms.
After Hunt announced the two-year delay last week, the DHSC said the trailblazers “had already provided valuable learning and insights to shape the government’s approach to implementation” and that it was working with them to agree a revised timetable, with details to follow.
The trailblazers – Blackpool, Cheshire East, Newham, North Yorkshire, Oxfordshire and Wolverhampton – were given £2.1m in June, mainly for the purposes of early assessments, with a further grant due later in the 2022-23 financial year.
Learning must not be lost – LGA
In response to the pausing of the trailblazers’ work, the Local Government Association warned learning must not be lost from the work councils had already done.
“Councils, along with the rest of the social care sector, have undertaken valuable work in recent months to prepare for the reforms going live and this learning should not be lost simply because the reforms are delayed,” said David Fothergill, chairman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board.
“The government needs to continue to fund and support councils on this wider learning as it has the potential to improve efficiency, productivity and innovation. We are keen to avoid a delay to charging reform meaning a cessation of the important work councils have begun in using technology to help bring about productivity and efficiency benefits.”
The purpose of the delay is to release funding that would otherwise have been spent on the reforms to enable councils to address pressures on core services, including by increasing the number of care packages delivered.
Pause ‘offers more time to address service pressures’
Cheshire East’s executive director of adults, health and integration, Helen Charlesworth-May, said: “This pause can be viewed as a positive step as it gives us more time to address existing pressures to our essential frontline services and to review our plan for the introduction of the cap on adult personal care costs at a later date.
“Along with the other five ‘trailblazer’ authorities, we are having ongoing and positive discussions with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) as to what any future implementation might look like.”
Karen Fuller, interim corporate director of adult social care at Oxfordshire council, said it was working with the DHSC to “understand exactly how pausing the introduction of the care cap will affect us in terms of timings, recognising that the reforms were broader than the care cap alone”.
She said that, as a trailblazer, the authority had “worked at pace to be ready for early implementation”, adding: “We are currently working to understand how all our work and the progress made can be adapted to build on better outcomes and experiences for people who need to access statutory adult social care services at the present time, so the learning and opportunities presented through reform preparations are not lost.”
For North Yorkshire council, corporate director for health and adult services Richard Webb said: “Whilst these reforms have been deferred until October 2025, there is much learning we can take from the work that we have done to date and we will be applying that learning to our day-to-day service delivery and future planning.
“The council has long advocated the need for charging reform to go hand in hand with wider reform of the care market and care services. Given the very real pressures being experienced within the care market and with issues such as recruitment and the cost of living, we welcome the priority which the autumn statement has given to wider social care reform, including efforts to address the immediate challenges faced by social care.”
‘Fair cost’ work scaled back
Alongside the two-year delay in the charging reforms, the government has scaled back work on an accompanying drive to ensure councils pay providers a fair cost of care, which is designed to close the gap between the higher fees typically levied on self-funders and rates paid by the state.
Authorities have received £162m this year to help them carry out exercises to determine a fair cost for older people’s provision in care homes and for domiciliary care for all adults, and to also draw up plans to move their fees towards these levels.
The DHSC had planned to provide £600m in each of £2023-24 and £2024-25 to help councils implement fair rates, supporting the sustainability of their local markets, but it will now maintain funding at £162m in each of these years.
It said this would enable councils “to continue to move towards paying a sustainable rate for care – while balancing this with increasing the number of care packages to meet unmet need and reducing waiting times”.
The two-year delay to the reforms and the scaling back of the fair cost of care initiative have released £3.2bn over 2023-24 and 2024-25 for councils to shore up their adults’ and children’s social care services.
200,000 extra care packages
Along with additional grant funding worth £1bn in 2023-24 and £1.7bn in 2024-25 for adult social care, the autumn statement also enables councils to increase by 2% per year – up from 1% – the council tax precept that provides dedicated funding for the sector. In addition, they are able to raise the general rate of council tax by 3% per year, up from 2%, without submitting the rise to a local referendum of citizens.
If all of this money were raised and flowed to adult social care, it would be worth £2.8bn in 2023-24 and £4.7bn in 2024-25, which Hunt said would enable authorities to deliver 200,000 more care packages.
However, council leaders have criticised the reliance on council tax to fund the extra provision.
In its briefing on the autumn statement, the LGA said: “We have been clear that council tax has never been the solution to meeting the long-term pressures facing services, particularly high-demand services like adult social care, child protection and homelessness prevention. It also raises different amounts of money in different parts of the country unrelated to need and adding to the financial burden facing households.”