Thurrock Council would no longer meet the needs of adults “experiencing extreme isolation and distress” under plans to create a new ‘upper substantial’ eligibility band reports communitycare.co.uk.
The council, which currently meets substantial needs, has proposed to create an upper and lower level of substantial need, of which it would only meet the higher component.
According to Thurrock’s own consultation documents this would mean only those whose situation was in danger of becoming critical within four weeks, if there was no support, would receive services.
A small number of councils currently have an upper substantial threshold, including Redbridge in east London, even though this is not mentioned in government guidance on prioritising need, which calls on councils to set eligibility at one of four levels: low, moderate, substantial and critical.
Thurrock’s plans follow a Community Care investigation last month that found that by next year just 20% of councils would be meeting moderate needs.
In its consultation, the council acknowledged that raising eligibility criteria to critical only would not help it save money because it would lead to increased pressures on informal carers and people falling into the critical band more quickly.
Lorna Payne, corporate director of community well-being at the council, said: “It is Thurrock’s proposition that by splitting substantial need into two levels it may be able to identify those people who will become critical if we delay provision from those who could potentially wait for a service without significant impact. This would allow the council to manage resource more effectively.
The council is also currently trying to establish more information on the impact of the changes through an analysis of recent eligibility decisions, said Payne.
“Restricting eligibility is not an action the council would want to take in usual circumstances, but one we have to consider given the likelihood of significant cuts to resources,” she added.
Andrew Cozens, adult social care lead at the Local government Association, said the move was not in the spirit of the Fair Access to Care Services (FACS) guidance to introduce a ‘higher substantial’ eligibility criteria. “It’s not a reliable way of making savings,” he said.
He added: “The evidence suggests it doesn’t deliver as much saving ads you would like because on reassessment peoples needs go up.” Councils are obliged to offer a reassessment when eligibility criteria change before removing any services.
Richard Watts, policy officer at the Essex Coalition of Disabled People, said it was important any change in criteria was sustainable. He added: “Thurrock’s consultation makes transparent and open what others may be informally doing anyway.”
The council hopes the changes will contribute £100,000 a year towards a total savings target of £25m across the council over the next two years. If adopted the plans could be introduced from December this year. The council has also put forward plans to raise charges for care, though stressed no decisions had been taken as yet.