Bid to end postcode lottery for cost of care at home

THE postcode lottery could end for the thousands of people across Wales who are charged different rates for the care they receive in their homes.

A Bill introduced today will seek to end the extreme variations in charges for care in different local authority areas across Wales.

In the last financial year, people in Neath Port Talbot paid a maximum weekly charge for non-residential care of £200 – but in Rhondda Cynon Taf the figure was just £16.20.

The present system is described as confusing for users and complicated for administrators.

Each of Wales’ 22 local authorities charges for home care, but only 15 demand a fee for day care.

The vast majority of the funds for these and other services do not come from the people who pay for them.

Of the £350m spent delivering services today, just £36m is recouped in charges.

Of the 66,000 people in Wales who use so-called “community- based” social services, 33,000 receive care for which a fee can be legally charged. Of these, 19,000 pay no fee.

Under the proposals, while it is expected that there will be maximum charges, it is understood councils will have the freedom to decide to offer services at a lower amount or no cost at all.

Such services are designed to allow people to stay in their own homes for as long as possible.

Research conducted by Cardiff consultancy LE Wales found councils, including Swansea and Ceredigion, made no charge for day care, but in Newport daily costs can range from £30 to £88.33.

Their report found examples of the devastating effects that demands for money can have on the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in Wales.

The authors said: “A service user with learning difficulties, who accepted non-residential social care service following a care assessment, found that she already owed social services £2,500 by the time she understood her financial assessment.

“Her position was made more difficult because her local social services department did not take account of the fact that her learning difficulties meant that she was unable to read letters that she received from them.”

They uncovered a further complaint that it was “unfair that receipt of a war pension was sufficient for someone to fail the means test and to have to pay charges”.

The new Welsh law is in response to a commitment in the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition agreement to “seek the powers, and then bring forward legislation, to create a more level playing field in relation to charges for domiciliary care services.”

Welsh ministers will gain the power to make regulations about:

The types of services which may or may not be charged for;

which type of clients may face a charge;

how the financial assessment process will work;

the maximum charge for a service.

First, the Assembly Government had to gain the power to make laws in this area.

The necessary Legislative Competence Order received royal approval in July 2008.

But the Assembly does not yet have the power to provide such regulation of residential social care services.

Eighty per cent of services are provided by the independent sector.

This latest attempt to improve the lives of people who depend on help delivered outside a care home follows a £9m initiative in 2007 targeted at those on the lowest incomes.

About 11,000 people ended up paying lower charges, and 3,000 no longer had to pay any.

The number of people who are expected to escape charges as a result of the new legislation will be announced today.

The Measure introduced by Deputy Minister for Social Services Gwenda Thomas (Labour) is expected to feed into a wider debate about who should pay for care in Wales.

A Green Paper from the Assembly Government is on the way and ministers in London are also looking at this subject.