Because local authorities are free to decide on their own charging policy, the level of charges is not the same throughout Scotland. What is free in one local authority area may be charged for in another. Equally, the way financial circumstances are assessed, and the way the income or capital of spouses or partners is treated, will vary in different parts of the country. This is another reason why information is so important, for example for elderly people thinking about moving nearer their families.
Charging On shows that only 19 out of Scotland's 32 local authorities claim to produce a leaflet explaining their charging policy and how it works. In many parts of Scotland there is an absence of readily available, good quality information about charges. The quality of the information varies considerably in terms of style, accuracy, comprehensiveness and in the language used. Even worse, some of the information produced seems to indicate ignorance of the law and government guidance in this complex area.
Leaflets are not as widely available as the SCC would like, with less than a third making such information available at libraries, and less than half using GP surgeries and health centres to distribute their information.
Deirdre Hutton, chairman of the SCC, said 'One of the single most effective ways of improving the information available would be to involve users and carers and their representative organisations more fully in the process of preparing and reviewing information products'.
The SCC also believes that the Scottish parliament must consider the whole question of charging for community care services as an early priority, in particular whether it would be desirable for charging for non-residential care services to be subject to national guidelines in the same way as residential care.
A full copy of the report Charging On is available, price£10, from:
Scottish Consumer Council
Royal Exchange House
100 Queen Street
Tel 0141 226 5261
Fax 0141 221 0731
Email firstname.lastname@example.org .uk
The research involved a survey of all local authority social work departments. All authorities were also asked to send examples of the information they produce.
The report makes the following recommendations:
1To local authorities
Local authorities should review all the information they produce about non-residential care services to ensure that it contains adequate information about charging. This review should involve users and carers fully to ensure that the information meets the needs of those who will use it. The involvement of users and carers must be comprehensive, covering all client groups. This will ensure that the information :
- is clear about the frequency and method of payment of charges
- explains the right of review of a financial assessment
- gives sources of independent advice and advocacy services
- is produced in a suitable format
- is written in plain English
- describes the availability of alternative formats and minority languages
- is produced in a form which can be easily updated whenever changes are made to the charging policy
- is made available in appropriate locations
- contains sufficient information about who produced it, when it was published and who to contact for more information
- is subject to regular and ongoing review
Local authorities should review their policy and information to ensure that it reflects the law and government guidance.
2To the Social Work Services Group
The Social Work Services Group should consider ways in which it could promote a greater degree of awareness of its guidance, with a view to improving the consistency of approaches by local authorities both to charging policy and to information provision.
3To the Scottish Parliament
The parliament should review current policy on charging for non-residential community care services. In particular, it should consider whether there is a need for a consistent national approach.
About the Scottish Consumer Council: The SCC promotes and represents the interest of Scottish consumers in general and disadvantaged consumers in particular. The SCC researches areas of concern, and then seeks to influence and persuade the relevant bodies, such as central and local government, nationalist and independent industries and public, professional and private sector services.