Norman LambThe Government has announced that it plans to introduce national eligibility criteria for adult social care from 2015, but critics say it could exclude 100,000 disabled people from the system.

Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb has announced that national eligibility criteria will be introduced in 2015 to set a minimum threshold of access to care and support services. The eligibility level is set to be the current ‘substantial’ level.

For the first time, the threshold will set out the individual needs and circumstances in which every council in England must offer care and support for adults. This would end councils’ scope to tighten their own eligibility criteria in response to budget pressures and the ‘postcode lottery’ of care services.

Councils currently assess the needs of people needing care as either ‘critical’, ‘substantial’, ‘moderate’ or ‘low’. But there is little consistency across the categories and many councils provide support only for people with ‘substantial’ care needs with a few restricting eligibility to the ‘critical’.

In 2013, 130 councils set their eligibility threshold at substantial, while only three councils provided social care to people falling in to all the bands. Meanwhile, 16 provide care to those with moderate needs and above and three councils only provided care for those with critical needs.

These are draft regulations, published for discussion before a more formal consultation takes place next year.

Basic minimum entitlements

Lamb said: “We know people are often confused about what care they can expect from their local authority and far too many end up having to fight for the care that they need because the rules are so complicated.

“In my view, we need to be clear about the basic minimum entitlements to services so that everyone can be reassured there is some level of support they can expect, regardless of where they live.

“A national minimum is exactly that – a starting point for local councils to base their care provision on.

“We are also starting work on a new approach to eligibility - which aims to offer some help to families earlier on to help prevent a deterioration of condition – this summer.

“Bringing in these changes will be one of the foundation stones for the most far reaching reform of social care in over 60 years.”

Shut out of care system

But Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, was critical of the proposed level of eligibility: “Under the proposals more than 100,000 disabled people who need care to get up, get washed and dressed and get out would be shut out of the system.

“The Government has ignored disabled and older people, it’s ignored public opinion and it’s ignored the experts who are calling for a more preventative system to take pressure off A&E.

“They need support to live independent lives. Without it, they are left isolated and in crisis.”

Hawkes added that with councils facing a further 10% cut from 2015, as outlined in last week’s Comprehensive Spending Review, “the hope that other services will pick up the preventative work is unrealistic.

“But this is still a draft – the plans will now be consulted on and then debated in Parliament. We need to carry on showing that Britain cares about social care.

“There are positives to build on. The Government has scrapped the current set of thresholds altogether ending the postcode lottery and the new focus on an individual’s well-being is welcome.

“But its commitment to a higher level of eligibility means it is in danger of passing up the chance to build a truly preventative care system that provides support, at the right time, to the right people, and helps take the pressure of A&E.”