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BASW England raises concerns about the effect of increased charges for care and support 

BASW England is concerned about reports of some service users who have decided not to use local services because they cannot afford to pay

Over the last year, many local authorities have revised their charging policies to increase their income from individuals who are assessed to pay a financial contribution for all or part of their personal budget. 

BASW England is concerned about reports of some service users who have decided not to use services because they cannot afford to pay, and others who are going into debt as a result of the increased charges. 

There has been one challenge through a judicial review where the High Court ruled that an increase in charges was discriminatory. This ruling is anticipated to have implications for other local authorities in England.

In the SH v Norfolk County Council judicial review there was a challenge on behalf of a young woman with severe learning difficulties, to the decision of Norfolk “to change the basis on which it calculates the charges made to her for Council-provided care, on the basis “that this decision indirectly discriminates against her as a severely disabled person in breach of her rights under the Human Rights Act 1998, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Equality Act 2010”. Justice Griffiths upheld the claim from SH in his judgement on December 2020. Norfolk had introduced a new charging policy that reduced the MIG (Minimum Income Guarantee) to the statutory minimum, and as a consequence, the weekly contribution from SH was set to rise from £ £50.53.

Counsel opinion commissioned by CASCAID, a legal advice and dispute resolution charity, concludes the “judgment in the Norfolk case found that there was an unjustified difference in treatment between, on the one hand, the severely disabled … and, on the other hand, everyone else receiving council services covered by the Charging Policy…(because)… a higher proportion of SH’s income (and of other severely disabled people in the same position) was assessed as available to be charged than theirs, and the result was that she was charged disproportionately more than they are”. This discrimination occurs because earnings from employment for people of working age are disregarded, whereas people who receive higher benefits because they cannot work, do not have these benefits disregarded.

The counsel opinion concluded: “policies which

(a) reduce the MIG to the statutory minimum;  

(b) choose not to disregard certain disability benefits;  

(c) have poorly functioning Disability Related Expenditure (DRE) schemes; and  

(d) do not consider alternative approaches,  

are likely to be discriminating against severely disabled people.”

In a recent survey undertaken by Social Care Future reported in The Guardian and Community Care, 54% of respondents specifically reported increased charges during the period of the pandemic. Of these, the majority reported that the increase was significant and that it is having a significant impact.

The article in Community Care (13 April) stated: “The survey found that charges had forced people to stop care they needed or make difficult choices for financial reasons, with the results showing an increased reliance on family members and high levels of deteriorating mental health, including suicidal thoughts”. A social worker placed a comment on this article stating his concern that the impact of increased charges “has resulted in ‘customers’ getting into debt to their local council and deciding they cannot afford services being provided and effectively having their service cut but by their own volition”.

Not every local authority will have a potentially unlawful charging policy, but most local authorities will have at least reviewed their charging policies. Social workers will want to be confident that local charging policies are not only legal, but are fair and not oppressive or harmful (in accordance with the Code of Ethics).

BASW England is developing guidance provisionally titled “An Ethical Approach to Meeting Needs in Adult Social Care” and it is our intention to include reference to the impact of increased charges. We welcome views from members and we are keen to discuss this with branches.