Vulnerable Elderly To Face ‘Eligibility’ Tests

Councils have made it harder for the elderly to stay in their own homes by increasing charges for basic support services such as shopping and laundry. New research reveals that budget restraints mean that thousands of pensioners who need help with cleaning or feeding are no longer receiving it free.

{mosimage}They face a battery of tests to determine their ‘eligibility’ for care in spite of the fact that the vast majority have been paying council tax for years. A survey to be published on Wednesday by the charity Counsel and Care will show that in the past year councils have raised the barriers even higher for those needing some domiciliary help. As Britain has an ageing population, the survey shows that local authorities are providing a larger number of hospital services for a much smaller group of older people with the most complex needs.

That means there is little or no support for those who are finding it hard to live independently but whose needs are relatively simple. The Observer has had a huge response to its Dignity at Home campaign, which has highlighted how older people trying to access care and support services in their own homes face huge personal care bills or are forced to rely on over-stretched voluntary help.

Even if the older person is eligible for means-tested services from their local authority, the charge for this care is increasing. Many struggle to afford to live at home or to pay the high cost of care home fees.

The survey, based on questions put to local authorities across England, showed that there was a 15 per cent increase in the number of councils that have restricted the eligibility criteria in the past 12 months. This will have affected thousands of people, although the exact numbers are not known.

Some older people are paying up to £320 a week towards domiciliary care costs, the survey says The price of meals-on-wheels also varies hugely, from £1.40 to £3.40 per meal. Even community transport, which gives older people a valuable opportunity to leave their home once a week, is being charged by some councils at up to £2.60 a trip.

Stephen Burke, chief executive of Counsel and Care, which runs an advice line for the elderly and their carers, said: ‘There is a triple lottery for home care services: it’s based on where someone lives, how their local authority applies the eligibility criteria for services and the charging policy of the local authority.’

The report will spell out that in a number of authorities there is now no service available at all for anyone with low or moderate needs.

Last year Sir Derek Wanless produced a report into the funding of social care for older people in which he pointed out that savings can be made by helping vulnerable people to stay at home. But local authorities say that they cannot afford to offer all the services to everyone.

Burke said: ‘These figures show the social care problem will not solve itself. Without active intervention, the system is going to collapse as more and more people need to be cared for at home.’