The government needs to make it easier for people with learning disabilities to live where they want to and move between local authority areas, a charity has said in a new report.
People with learning disabilities face a postcode lottery of care, despite a pledge from the Government and the social care sector that people should have choice and control over their accommodation, according to Linkage Community Trust.
The charity’s report, ‘Location, Location, Location’ includes data from Freedom of Information requests from about 75% of local authorities in England, and found wide variations in practice between local authorities over ‘ordinary residence’. This aims to establish the status of people who are in residential care outside their original area and determines which council pays.
Usually, a person’s ordinary residence is their original authority, so if a council places someone in residential care in another area, the original local authority remains responsible for funding. But problems occur when someone wants to move from residential care in the second authority into supported living within that area – the two authorities contest who is responsible for funding and disputes may arise that can last many months.
The same issue applies with people who have care packages. When a person living with support in the community decides to move to another area, there are often arguments between the original and ‘new’ local authorities over who will pay for the support if the move happens. People can be left in limbo, fearing they will be left without support, or with reduced support, if they move.
Additionally, the report found that funding responsibility is not always transferred to the receiving local authority when a person moves into their area, contrary to Department of Health guidance.
“We need the Government to make it easier for people to exercise their right to live where they want to and to give indisputable guidelines to local authorities on who is responsible for funding,” said Ges Roulstone, chief executive of Linkage. “In our research, we have uncovered examples of people who have been caught in the middle of a dispute and it can affect their wellbeing.
“There also needs to be a clear funding transfer process to ensure that people are able to move seamlessly between areas. This is in line with agendas on choice, control and personalisation.
“Without clearer guidance on ordinary residence and funding responsibility, local authorities have perverse incentives to move people out of their area. We must close the loopholes that local authorities sometimes try to use to avoid assuming financial responsibility.”
Linkage says the Care Bill currently going through Parliament is a crucial opportunity to bring more consistency and clarity to the issue of ordinary residency. But there is still a risk of variations between local authorities on what they include in a personal budget, which could affect the level of care a person receives. Regulations and accompanying guidance should clearly set out what is expected of local authorities to minimise the risk of different interpretations.
John Adams OBE, general secretary of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, added: “This [report] again highlights the reality of disabled people being denied the choice of where they want to live, because councils use disputes over a person’s place of ordinary residence as a device to delay paying the costs of care. They are passing the buck and ignoring Government policy, it costs taxpayers millions of pounds and causes untold distress to those caught up in these disputes. It’s high time the Government acknowledged the full extent of the financial and human costs of these protracted disputes and ensured once and for all that councils understand and comply with their ordinary residence obligations.”