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Coronavirus emergency: local authority charges for care and support

Christine Cooper looks at the issues for local authorities around charging for care during the coronavirus outbreak.

How should local authorities deal with the setting aside during the Coronavirus crisis of their duties to provide care and support to adults with eligible needs? The UK government’s emergency Coronavirus legislation, which received Royal Assent on Wednesday, temporarily suspends local authorities’ duties under the Care Act 2014.

Once the Coronavirus legislation is introduced, local authorities will only have to meet needs where it is necessary to avoid a breach of human rights.

Removing the requirement to carry out assessments (including financial)

The same legislation also removes the requirement upon local authorities to carry out most types of assessments, including financial assessments. But it enables charges for care and support to be imposed retrospectively for care provided during this emergency period.

The importance of clear communication about charges

Local authorities should ensure people receiving care and support know they are likely to receive a bill in the future and are given an indication of the probable costs.

This will be especially important where the person is being provided with care for the first time and is unfamiliar with the charging regime.

Without that information, these people will not have had the opportunity to exercise the right to refuse the care and make their own arrangement. Such an omission may well defeat any claim for payment once the emergency is over.

The relevant charging provisions of the Coronavirus Bill are paragraph 3, 7 and 10 of Schedule 12:

Paragraph 3: suspends the duty to carry out a financial assessment but no charge may be made without having carried out an assessment;

Paragraph 7: treats a local authority that has decided not to carry out a financial assessment as having decided not to make a charge but this is subject to paragraph 10. It also stipulates that the local authority does not have to meet a person’s needs where it has told the person (or their representative) that it may make a charge and the person asks them not to meet those needs.

Paragraph 10: applies where the local authority would ordinarily have been entitled to make a charge but decided not to carry out a financial assessment before meeting the person’s needs. In those circumstances, the local authority is permitted to carry out the financial assessment at a later date and retrospectively apply the charges.

The rationale for these changes is to ensure restricted resources are focused on providing care and not on administrative processes, which can be tidied up once the immediate emergency is over.

Christine Cooper is a barrister at Field Court Chambers.

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