Is it just me…?

Robert Chamberlain, Editor in Chief, discusses the findings of the LGA’s research into councils’ ability to pay for the Care Act’s funding reforms.

According to the Local Government Association’s (LGA) latest research (7th August 2014) 90% of councils are concerned about the cost of implementing the forthcoming funding reforms. In the survey of 152 local authorities, 134 stated that additional funding would be required to fill the distinct possibility of a funding gap.

Unknown demand

Of major concern is the uncertainty regarding the numbers of self-funders in each region that could request an assessment from a council to limit their expenditure on care costs under the new system. The unknown demands for new assessments and the costs of meeting additional care needs are clearly worrying for local authorities, whose budgets are already under tremendous pressure. Without adequate funding it is possible that councils will not be able to meet the increased demand for assessments. This issue threatens to impact on the benefit of the reforms for thousands who would qualify for funding.

Warning signs

The LGA report states that, ‘local authorities are warning the Government that if further analysis being carried out between local government and the Department of Health in the coming weeks does uncover a funding gap, more money will be the only reasonable solution to carrying out these reforms – not delaying or making fewer changes.’

Katie Hall, Chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, added, ‘Councils want to help as many people who require support and care as possible, however, with only eight months to go until councils will have to start implementing these changes, the clock is ticking for Government to get the funding right so that these vital reforms do not face collapse before they have even begun.

‘The Care Act has the potential to bring about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the lives of the most vulnerable people who rely on care and support. Some of the most vulnerable people who rely on care, their families and carers are expecting changes from April next year. Many of these people will have been anticipating the positive impact that some of these changes could have on their lives and now could be facing the very real possibility that the Government could have unfairly raised their expectations through a failure to properly fund the changes they have been waiting for.’

Troubled start

Even if the reforms are implemented successfully, the diluted Dilnot recommendations are regarded with scepticism over how limited the benefits will be to care seekers. For example, it would appear that care home residents would only benefit after two and a half years – way beyond the average stay in residential care according to sector statistics. If councils’ concerns, as highlighted by the LGA research, are proved grounded, it is questionable how further reduced any benefits from the reforms will be.

It is difficult to understand how the Government has calculated the affordability of the new system, given the lack of information on the numbers of people potentially eligible. Is it possible that they have a handle on these figures while local authorities are scratching their heads? I do also wonder if the finances are calculated on additional care costs alone or take into account cost of the resources needed to assess new claimants by councils.

I’m not surprised that councils have yet to determine the extent of potential self-funder assessments. In other recent research conducted by Independent Age almost 75% of councils admitted failing to even track the extent of top-up care fees. This is despite a consensus from those councils interviewed that they had a legal responsibility to do so.

With such a short timeframe before the reforms impact there is an absolute and immediate need to address these fundamental issues on both sides of the fence. Let’s hope that Care Services Minister Norman Lamb’s response to the LGA’s findings heads off the potential of a troubled start.

Do you agree with Robert? What are your thoughts? Add to the debate in the comments below. Subscription required.

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