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  • Writer's pictureAllan Stelmach

Report highlights improper social care assessments in England

Human Rights Watch, an international organisation that conducts research and advocacy on human rights worldwide, has recently published a report highlighting what it calls "improper social care assessments"conducted by local authorities across England. The full text is available here. The authors interviewed older people in receipt or in need of services, family carers, current and former local government staff, as well as a range of professionals and partner organisations. They found myriad examples of people being denied services to which they were entitled, with many decisions later being overturned on appeal, though services were often withdrawn before an appeal could be heard. "Some of those interviewed said that assessors appeared not to understand their disabilities and social care needs. In other cases, before beginning an assessment, assessors announced that services would be cut regardless of an individual's actual need" (pg.1).

The Care Act 2014 is the latest key piece of legislation that underpins the delivery of social care support in England. It places duties and responsibilities on local authorities to ensure that people "receive services that prevent their care needs from becoming more serious, or delay the impact of their needs; can get the information and advice they need to make good decisions about care and support; have a range of provision of high quality, appropriate services to choose from" (Care Act Factsheets). Sadly the report from Human Rights Watch found consistent evidence that the reality of people's experiences across the country are falling short of these aims.

Appeals against local authority assessments are lodged with the relevant local authority, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO), or can be taken directly to Court. There was no consistency in whether services were continued unchanged, or potentially necessary services provided, whilst an appeal was underway, however, and the task of pursuing that appeal fell to the person in need of support. The Department of Health and Social Care are reportedly developing a process for streamlining appeals, as provided for in the Care Act, though this is not expected until April 2020 at the earliest. The LGSCO published their own report in November 2018: "Social care pressures reflected in Ombudsman's annual review of complaints", which highlights "a shift from one-off mistakes to problems with whole systems and policies, or procedures being incorrectly applied".

The Human Rights Watch report highlights that "older people have the right to live independently in the community and to community-based services under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilties (CRPD), which the UK ratified in 2009" (pg.23). Further, that "In its October 2017 review of the UK, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities expressed concern about changes in "policies and measures that affect the ability to live independently in the community" and that "responsibility for supporting independent living has been transferred to the devolved administrations and local authorities without providing appropriate and earmarked budget allocation"" (pg.23-24).

This is an excellent report that warrants reading in full. Clearly, the financial burdens placed on local authorities over several years are increasingly resulting in tensions between what help is needed and what resources are available. There is also a worrying trend of inconsistency in the accuracy of social care assessments and decision making. Independent Social Work support, such as that provided by Local Social Work has the potential to make a significant difference to the outcomes of social care assessments from the local authority, and can help with appeals against decisions, or plan for care and support needed separately from the local authority if publicly funded resources are not going to be available or relied upon. Please get in touch if there is anything we can do to help.

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