Introducing a cap on elderly care costs could leave councils open to a “deluge of disputes and legal challenges”, MPs and peers are warning. Ministers are proposing capping the amount people have to pay as part of a shake-up of the system in England. It will be up to councils to assess how much individuals are spending.
But the parliamentary group set up to scrutinise the changes warned tensions were likely to arise.
The Joint Committee on the Draft Care and Support Bill said the cap would lead to 450,000 people immediately asking for their care costs to be assessed.
The group said this represented a huge extra burden on local authorities.
However, the MPs and peers said as the 152 councils in the country operated their own systems for calculating costs this would “inevitably” lead to problems.
The way spending towards the cap is calculated is complex.
For example, councils will only be counting spending on care once an individual’s needs reach a “substantial” level.
They will also only include costs they see as appropriate – and this may be less than an individual is paying in the private sector.
Committee chairman Paul Burstow said the current system was a “dog’s breakfast” and needed reforming.
But he warned the current proposals needed to be improved to make them fit for purpose.
On the issue of calculating costs that count towards the cap, he said: “Inevitably there will be cases that are got wrong.”
The committee said with this in mind it would be wise for an independent tribunal to be set up to mediate disputes.
It also called for a national campaign to raise awareness about the the social care system – research suggests many people believe old age care is free like the NHS.
The report has been published just days after the government announced it was bringing forward the introduction of the cap.
At the weekend, ministers said the cap would come into effect in 2016 – 12 months earlier than planned – and as a result it would be set at £72,000 not £75,000 as originally set out.
Councillor David Rogers, of the Local Government Association, said it was essential ministers were realistic with the public over what the cap would do, adding the “devil will be in the detail”.
“It’s vital that people are helped to understand the potential lifetime costs of care and support.”
The Department of Health said it would consider the recommendations.
BBC By Nick Triggle