Community Care reports that Northamptonshire Council has dropped plans to charge all self-funded adults £50 before conducting any assessment of their needs.  

As comments from Caroline Barrett (Irwin Mitchell) and Mitchell Woolf (Scott-Moncrieff) highlight, the proposal was on very shaky legal ground.

Section 9(3) of the Care Act 2014 makes clear that the duty to conduct an assessment of needs arises independently both of the Local Authority pre-assessment view on needs and "the level of the adult’s financial resources".  

The Care Act Guidance helpfully sets out that eligibility for support is measure after assessment of need:  "The eligibility determination cannot take place until an assessment has been completed."  A helpful flowchart is provided in the Guidance to illustrate the distinct nature of decisions on need then eligibility (at 6.12).

Making the conduct of an assessment dependent first on a necessary - and potentially cursory - determination of financial resources and the subsequent payment of a fee would put the administrative cart before the statutory horse.    

The Council points out that means-testing requires some with "levels of savings and investments" to pay for care.  However,  57% of all those now seeking assistance receive no public funding

Responding to the consultation, the Alzheimer's Society stressed that care costs are leading to worse health outcomes and greater burdens on NHS budgets as people "struggle on unsupported, increasing their risk of ending up in a crisis that requires emergency hospital care or early entry to a residential home".  Finding £50 before the need for support can even be identified would create an additional financial hurdle clearly never envisaged by Parliament.

Unfortunately, in their response, the Council maintains its view that such charging remains consistent with the underlying statutory framework.

With the budget looming - and Surrey County Council floating consideration of Council tax increases of up to 15% for social care - how we pay for care has again been in the headlines.   

In the absence of a much-needed longer-term solution, it is perhaps unsurprising that local authorities are exploring their options.  Continued close scrutiny of the legality of all local proposals for change in provision would be well advised.