Audit Commission slams home care policy

11 May 00
The Audit Commission this week exposed 'unacceptable variations' in councils' charging policies for home care, and called on the government to produce formal guidance to ensure a more consistent approach.

12 May 2000

Some 500,000 people in England and Wales receive help, from shopping and cleaning to more personal care such as assistance with bathing or dressing. The vast majority, some 420,000, are over 65.

According to the commission, which published a report, Charging with care, this week, service users in similar circumstances but different areas face charges that vary from nothing to more than £100 a week for the same service.

Even more alarmingly, 30% of councils are pushing those on the lowest incomes further into poverty by charging against basic income support. Councils also treat disability benefits in widely different ways. Some ignore the key attendance allowance, while others take up to 90% of it.

In response to the report, health minister John Hutton said: 'Some of the examples uncovered, such as the failure by many councils to take disability living costs into account, are unacceptable.'

John Ransford, the Local Government Association's head of social affairs, health and housing, told Public Finance he was disappointed with the minister's response. 'The government has to do its bit as well,' he said. 'Ministers have been sitting on the royal commission report on long-term care, which made specific recommendations on charging, for over a year now.'

The commission found that charges now fund 12% of home care costs compared with 8% in 1993/94. But the Association of Directors of Social Services said this rise was a direct result of government policy.

The commission called on the Department of Health to produce formal guidance covering how councils should assess users' income (including benefits, savings and partners' resources) and their expenditure, including costs related to disability.


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