Local authorities will not have to raise the means test threshold for people receiving adult social care for at least four years, the health secretary has confirmed.
In a letter published today, Jeremy Hunt said the level of assets that people could have while qualifying for means tested support would not rise to the £118,000 limit set out in the Care Act until at least 2020.
The delay to the increase in the asset limit comes after the government announced a fortnight ago that it would also defer the implementation of the £72,000 cap on care costs until 2020. The two related policies are both in the Care Act 2014 and awaiting secondary legislation to introduce them.
In a reply to a letter from health select committee chair Sarah Wollaston seeking clarification on the issue, Mr Hunt said the level of assets that people can have in order to qualify for means-tested support will remain at current levels of £23,250 for the upper limit and £14,250 for the lower limit. He said the limits would remain at their current levels “for the time being” and “until at least 2020”. He said the means test limits and the reforms would be kept under review.
The upper limit takes into account the value of the property of someone in a care home while the lower limit means that people with assets of less than £14,250 only have to make contributions from their income and not their assets.
Dr Wollaston wrote to Mr Hunt on 23 July to ask whether the upper limit on assets was still going to increase after the government decided to delay the implementation of the cap on care costs.
She complained that the announcement of the delay in the care cap was made by a written statement in the House of Lords and publication of a letter by Alistair Burt on a day when the House of Commons was not sitting and the day after Mr Hunt had made a major speech. But the health secretary said the government had wanted to announce the decision “as soon as possible after it was taken”.
Dr Wollaston also asked whether the government would address the long-standing problem of people who self-fund their care effectively cross-subsidising those paid for by local authorities.
In reply, Mr Hunt said the Care Act placed a duty on local authorities to ensure their local care market “remains sustainable and able to deliver high-quality services for all people” and that fees should reflect this duty. But he added that councils often paid less for care places than self-funders because of their bulk-buying power and duty to get the best value for tax-payers’ money.
He said the government would ensure new statutory guidance was put into practice that said local authorities should consider the actual cost of care when negotiating fees.
Mr Hunt said the impact on council finances of the National Living Wage – a higher level of minimum wage for the over-25s announced in the Summer Budget – would be considered in the government’s spending review, which is due to report in November.
His letter also reiterated the care minister Alistair Burt’s point that the government would work with the financial sector to see what could be done to help people meet their care costs.