Until fairly recently, the parts of the Care Act that ultimately resulted from The Dilnot Commission recommendations, may not have been foremost in everyone’s minds. Some of us will have been so busy preparing for the implementation of elements of the reforms such as the new eligibility regulations, the independent advocacy duty and carers’ rights in April this year, that we have put the second tranche of the reforms to the bottom of our To Do lists.
Many people will have heard of the cap on care costs of course, due to come into force in April 2016, a year after the rest of the Act; after all, it’s been in the news a fair amount, and arguably has enjoyed a higher public profile than any other aspect of the Care Act – not having to sell one’s home in one’s lifetime is a major selling point, is it not? Well, like most marketing headlines, the detail is really in the small print: it is interesting to note that as far back as two years ago, the care Minister and Department of Health admitted that only a small minority of people will benefit from the cap.
Originally it was promised that the detail of how Dilnot would be implemented would be published last October or November. Finally in February this year, Government published another consultation, this time on draft guidance and regulations for the cap on care costs, and proposals for an appeals system, which finished eight weeks later on the same day Parliament was dissolved before the general election. One cannot help thinking that despite the undoubted hard work that has been done by the Dilnot Commission, the Law Commission, the Department of Health, and across the sector over several years to pave the way for the biggest reforms to adult social care in over 65 years, the end result has been something of a rushed job.
Ongoing concerns about the affordability of the reforms, voiced not only by councils, but by national charities and providers, serve to further dampen people’s optimism about what on the face of it is a fantastic, progressive piece of legislation. It was interesting to note then, that in the Summer Budget on Wednesday 8 July, there was not a single mention of the Care Act, but perhaps there WAS a clue about the Government’s intentions in the fact that the couple’s inheritance tax threshold will be increasing to £850,000 from 2017. In 2013, the Health Secretary told Parliament that the cost of implementing the cap would be met in part by freezing the inheritance tax threshold at £325,000 per person for a further three years from 2015-16.
Two days before the Summer Budget, on Monday 6 July, the Guardian ran a piece which said that senior figures in the social care sector say the idea of “pausing” the cost cap, due to be brought in next April, is being discussed urgently in Whitehall. According to journalists, we will know the outcome before Parliament rises for the Summer on 21 July – no doubt when journalists go away on holiday too.
For those Councils up and down the country, which have been grappling with issues such as how to manage an increase in needs assessments, or an influx of complaints about the sufficiency of someone’s Personal Budget, let alone how they are going to pay for it all, it will be a long few days.