Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Barker: I support the case set out by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. The mandatory disregard for property does not cover a number of people, particularly carers and same sex partners. I am particularly concerned about same sex partners, because they are people who in other respects have difficulty in making legal arrangements to safeguard their property when their relationships are not recognised.

In Standing Committee in another place, it was agreed that a genuine issue is at stake. The Minister in the other place said that the Government would reflect further on it. The Minister went on to say:

It would be helpful if the Minister in this place would give an undertaking that regulations will be amended to ensure that property is disregarded so that members of the resident's family or former carers--the people

22 Mar 2001 : Column 1659

who will be picking up the personal care which the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, does not wish to have paid for by other means--are not penalised twice over.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Under current legislation, when deciding how much a person is liable to pay towards the cost of their residential care the council will look at how much capital the person has. The limit for a person with over £16,000 in capital is to be raised to £18,500 from 9th April: above that, persons will be required to pay the full cost of their accommodation. The council will look at all forms of capital, including the former home, when deciding how much capital the person has. However, as the noble Baroness has suggested, regulations made under Sections 22 and 26 of the National Assistance Act 1948 require councils to disregard the value of a resident's property where it continues to be occupied by the resident's spouse or partner or another relative who is 60 or over, or another relative who is incapacitated, or where a child who is dependent on the resident continues to live in the property.

Importantly, councils also have the discretion to disregard property where it continues to be occupied by a third party not covered by the mandatory disregards. Many local authorities make use of this discretion, and we have given this a great deal of consideration since the discussion in another place. I have also had the benefit of a meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Rix, to discuss this further.

We have decided to look to future guidance and remind councils on how they should be interpreting the liable relatives rule with respect to carers, including those where the cared for person enters respite care. This guidance will remind councils of the purpose and place of the liable relatives rule while at the same time encouraging them to use common sense and discretion where appropriate.

For instance, it will remind them of current guidance under the Carers and Disabled Children Act, which asked councils not to charge carers for services received by those for whom they care. As has been suggested, this must make sense. For example, it would serve little purpose if carers are asked to contribute to care cost when they are already making significant sacrifices to care for their partner and when some in that situation might see little point in carrying on caring. The pathway we have chosen is to issue more guidance to local authorities in this area.

Lord Rix: With that assurance, which I am delighted to hear, and seeing that guidance will be strengthened in regard to the liable relatives rules, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Greengross moved Amendment No. 276:

    After Clause 59, insert the following new clause--

(1) The National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 (c. 19) shall be amended as follows.

22 Mar 2001 : Column 1660

(2) After section 47(1) (assessment of needs for community care services) there shall be inserted--
"(1A) In deciding whether or not to carry out an assessment under subsection (1) above a local authority shall disregard any financial resources available to the person."
(3) After section 47(3) there shall be inserted--
"(3A) Where a local authority has decided to carry out an assessment the authority shall give reasonable notice in writing that an assessment is to be carried out.
(3B) Within 14 days of completing their assessment the authority shall notify the person in writing of the outcome, including details of--
(a) any needs that have been identified as a result of the assessment that require the provision of any community care services;
(b) any community care services that the person will receive;
(c) the statutory agency which is responsible for ensuring that such services are provided;
(d) a summary of the charging structure that will apply for provision of such services by the authority;
(e) the date on which services will commence;
(f) in so far as the authority does not accept that needs identified by the person and the authority (or both) as requiring the provision of community care services call for the provision of such services, the authority shall inform the person of the reasons for this decision;
(g) the right to request a review of the decision and of the time within which such a request must be made."
(4) In section 47(4) leave out the words "subsection (7) below" and insert "subsections (1A), (3A) and (3B) above and (7) below".
(5) The Secretary of State may issue directions requiring that assessments shall commence and be completed within prescribed periods.".""

The noble Baroness said: This amendment would ensure that persons who have sufficient resources to purchase their own long-term care are not, because of that, denied the benefit of a skilled assessment of need. We know that there is a likely potential for service users to be left with inadequate information about which services are the responsibility of which statutory body, to which agency they complain and for which of their services they are paying. We have heard about this during the course of our debate. Current practice in carrying out assessments and complete care plans, I am afraid, is often woefully inadequate, to the extent that service users are often unaware that they have been assessed.

Delays in assessment and in the subsequent provision of services due to the involvement of more than one statutory agency are also a concern. This is a multi-purpose amendment about the whole process of assessment. People encounter a great many problems, and we want to have on the face of the legislation some provision which could address these problems. I beg to move.

Lord Lipsey: My noble friend Lord Morris is desolated that he cannot be here because of an important medical engagement. However, whatever view we take about whether richer people should contribute to their care, he believes that they should not be denied assessment. Assessment is a signpost that tells you what you need, however that is to be paid for.

22 Mar 2001 : Column 1661

I have some sympathy with this view. The more one considers this area the more one realises that the difficulties do not concern finance, but assessment, and finding out where the services are available, at their many points. I quite see that this is as difficult for better-off people as it is for less well-off people. I hope that the Minister will at least accept the spirit of this amendment, and give us some comfort.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I thank noble Lords for those comments, which are very important. Let me say immediately that I thoroughly agree that the person's financial situation should not be taken into account during the assessment of their needs--the very point my noble friend Lord Lipsey raised.

I am aware that in some areas the practice has developed that as soon as it is discovered a person has care and attention available to them, including resources, council staff will not commence or may terminate assessments of need. Irrespective of the value of a person's resources, the care and attention that is otherwise available to them, there is no question that councils have a duty to commence or complete assessments of need. We were aware of this problem, and two or three years ago we reminded councils of the legal position. We said in Circular LAC 98/19 that in our view the law does not allow authorities to refuse to undertake an assessment of care needs on the grounds of a person's financial resources.

The amendment does not alter the current legal position. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, that we shall continue to hammer home this important message whenever appropriate. Clause 60 of the Bill, through regulations, will remove the person's main property from the consideration of whether someone shall have care and attention available to them.

The noble Baroness's amendment suggests a range of improvements to the way in which assessments are carried out. Generally, these proposed changes are about practice and will probably be better dealt with in guidance than in legislation. It is proposed that a local authority should give reasonable notice in writing that assessment is to be carried out. Surely, that is common sense. If a care professional is scheduled to discuss with a person their needs and problems it is good practice to inform them of this in writing. Current practice guidance on assessment and the Government's charter for long term care cover those points.

With regard to results of assessment being notified to prospective service users within 14 days, I understand that many users are notified much earlier than that. There is some danger in stating 14 days because, in the perverse way these matters sometimes operate, that might become the norm and make the situation worse. I believe that current guidance covers this issue and reminds councils that assessment processes should be timely, and services following assessment provided without delay.

The final part of the proposed new clause provides for the Secretary of State to issue a requirement that assessment should commence and be completed within

22 Mar 2001 : Column 1662

prescribed time scales. This is another important element of practice. While I appreciate the sentiment behind the proposal, it could be difficult to put into effect. For some reasons assessments can be completed quickly; others may take considerably longer. While I agree that the assessment should not drag on, I would be worried about prescribing time limits in direction or regulation.

In conclusion, matters raised in this amendment focus on good practice and, as such, are best dealt with by guidance. I hope the noble Baroness will recognise that I am very sympathetic to the general point she makes.

11 p.m.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I thank the Minister for those reassuring points. I am not sure that everything will be achieved through guidance. That is why we have raised some of these problems. I accept the sympathy offered. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, would feel the same way. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page