Home care services, including home-helps and personal care, are relied on by many older and disabled people to help them continue living independently at home. Local councils each have their own systems of charging for these services.
This means that people with the same income can be charged in very different ways. In particular, some councils' systems mean that severely disabled people find their income support is reduced to pay for essential social services.
Some charges can also act as a disincentive to work. For example, some severely disabled people who work can find that most of their earnings are taken up by paying for intensive packages of care.
Mr Hutton said: 'There are over 500,000 people who receive home care in England and
Wales, many of whom are older people. Present systems for charging, vary hugely from council to council, and some of these are difficult to justify, as the recent Audit Commission report highlighted.
'We have taken new powers under the Care Standards Act (CSA) to put an end to this. Through these powers, we will be issuing statutory guidance to local councils regarding charges for non-residential social services. This will clearly set out how we expect councils to achieve fairness in their charges for non-residential social
'The consultation paper on the draft guidance is issued today. We are aiming to issue final guidance by May 2001. Councils will be expected to implement this by no later than 1 April 2002. The end result will be a much fairer system all round.'
Key points contained within the consultation include:
* Charges should not reduce an individual's income below basic levels of income support.
* Assessments of ability to pay charges should normally involve an assessment of the income and expenditure of an individual, including the effects of any charge on a person's disposable income.
* Disability related benefits may be taken into account in the assessment of income -for example when a person receives benefits such as Attendance Allowance and disability living allowance. Where they are, councils should take specific steps to ensure that any charge made is reasonable. Also, means tests should look at the resources and expenditure of the individual, including any disability related expenditure.
* Minimum savings limits should be followed by councils, at least at the level of those for residential care but excluding the value of any property.
* No more than 55% of a person's earnings should be taken into account as income to help ensure that people are not discouraged from working.
Following consultation, the implementation of the draft guidance will lead to a fairer system of charging, which supports social inclusion and the promotion of independence. It should not lead to any overall reduction in councils' income from charges, allowing services in the community to continue to develop.
Nothing in this guidance requires councils to make existing charging policies, which go beyond the requirements in the draft guidance, less generous to users than they are currently.
Some legitimate variations will remain but greater consistency, better information for users and swifter assessments should all make it easier for those people who need home care services to make informed choices about the care they want.
1. Alan Milburn announced in the second reading of the Care Standards Bill an amendment to allow statutory guidance to be issued. (The CSA received Royal Assent on 20 July 2000.)
2. The consultation period ends on 30 March 2001.
3. Copies of both the consultation document and draft guidance can be found on www.doh.gov.uk/scg/homecarecharges
4. The National Assembly for Wales will be conducting a separate consultation exercise in Wales.
5. The DETR is publishing a separate consultation document today about charges for services under the new supporting people initiative, starting in April 2003. A common approach will be followed with charges for home care, as far as possible.
6. Councils have had the power to charge for social services since the 1948 National Assistance Act. Current powers were set out in the 1983 Health and Social Services and Social Security Adjudications Act (HASSASSA). This gave councils wide discretion
on how to set their charges, although it stipulated that the charges should be 'reasonable', and that no-one should be asked to pay more than they reasonably can.
7. The Audit Commission study, 'Charging with care', published in May 2000, set out in detail the wide variations in local charging policies. The draft guidance aims to deal with the problems identified.