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Whitehall makes plans in case of Care Act delay

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Department of Health officials are working out alternative timetables for the rollout of the second part of the Care Act amid growing concern it could be delayed by a new government, LGC has learned.

Civil servants are working on what would happen if the introduction of measures including the cap on care costs and independent personal budgets – currently planned for April 2016 – were postponed for either six or 12 months.

Most of the Care Act came into force on 1 April, requiring councils to introduce a range of measures including nationally mandated minimum eligibility requirements and improved support for carers. However, secondary legislation must be laid before Parliament to formally introduce the care cap and personal budgets for individuals who choose not to have their care organised by the local authority.

This is not expected to happen until October, leaving councils just six months to carry out detailed implementation planning. In addition, councils will not find out how much funding they will be allocated to cover the costs of part two of the act until December.

Most authorities need to invest in IT infrastructure to provide ‘care accounts’ which track individuals’ progress towards the care cap, as well as communications with the public and staff training.

One senior council source with knowledge of the work of the programme management office said there was a feeling that implementation by 2016 would be “quick” and called on the incoming government to give an indication of their plans “as soon as possible”.

“Most people in the sector and who are influencing the Care Act want it to happen to keep the momentum going. My own feeling is that will be reviewed after the election to put it off for six months or put it off for 12 months.

“[DH civil servants] want to be prepared if a new government comes in.”

Another source close to the programme confirmed officials were looking at alternative timetables.

They said: “A new government may want to give themselves a bit more time…delaying it would probably free up some finances and they may prefer to delay to give people more time to implement.

“All the party manifestos suggest they are going to go with the Care Act but not in exactly what form.”

They said it could be difficult to get the IT in place in timefor April 2016 if providers were not given the final specifications until October.

There is also concern that current modelling by the DH underestimates what the overall cost of implementation is likely to be to councils. Although this funding will not be ringfenced, there is an expectation that it will be clearly identified in council allocations.

Izzi Seccombe (Con), chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board and leader of Warwickshire CC, told LGC there was concern that funding beyond the current year “isn’t quite as clear as it could be”.

She said the LGA would be actively lobbying the new government to ensure authorities received adequate funding.

“Whatever government comes in after 7 May it will be our intention to fully support a continuation of the Care Act.”

The DH declined to comment due to purdah rules.

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