Green light for contentious changes to home-care charges in Northumberland

Changes which will mean increased home-care charges for some in Northumberland have been approved in the face of criticism from opposition councillors.

Thursday, 21st February 2019, 11:37 am
Updated Thursday, 21st February 2019, 11:42 am
Coun Veronica Jones, cabinet member for adult health and wellbeing.

A number of amendments to Northumberland County Council’s charges for care and support services for adults were given final approval at the full council meeting on Wednesday (February 20), by 36 votes to 26 with one abstention.

Setting out the ‘complex’ recommendations which include six main changes to the charging policy for non-residential care and support services, Coun Veronica Jones, cabinet member for adult health and wellbeing, said: “I don’t think any of us will be welcoming these changes, but in the overall financial context, I believe they are necessary.”

Labours Coun Susan Dungworth

But Labour’s Coun Susan Dungworth said: “I don’t want to get bogged down in what is a very detailed report, I want to focus on who it is we’re talking about here and what we are talking about again is very, very vulnerable people in our communities.

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“It’s like the proposals that have already gone through this council in terms of reducing council-tax support, we are attacking the most vulnerable in this community, people who are already struggling.”

To illustrate her point, she read out a series of consultation responses from those receiving the care that were included in the report to councillors.

For example: ‘Your letter has put the fear of God into me. I don’t know how we’d afford these huge increases after just having a £16+ increase weekly a few months ago. I’ve sat and cried and lost a lot of sleep with worry since your letter over how will we manage to heat the house and eat if you force us to pay all this money.’

And: ‘It is horrible that you should even consider reducing the income of those that are struggling already. Does the spouse of a disabled person not already suffer enough?’

However, Lib Dem leader Jeff Reid said: “This is the only way we are going to be able to continue delivering this service to the most vulnerable people in Northumberland. There isn’t any other way of doing this. We are in this situation because our population is going older.

“Actually, what happens is, in action, this is a lot less worse than you think it’s going to be. When you show letters to old and vulnerable people who don’t understand the policy behind it, of course they are going to panic.

“I’m not saying this is not going to impact on people emotionally, because it’s going to, but you’ve just got to work it through. I can’t see that there’s anything else we can do other than this.”

Bedlington Independent, Coun Malcolm Robinson, said: “I understand the need to balance the budget, however, sometimes when you micro-manage the budgets, you lose sight of the bigger picture. And this isn’t the way to balance this budget.”

Labour’s Coun Scott Dickinson added: “This is the wrong thing to do, no matter how you dress it up.”

Responding to the concerns, council leader Peter Jackson said that ‘there are councillors in this chamber who are trying to worry vulnerable people’, adding: “We have one of the best social-care systems and packages of support of anywhere in the country and we are trying to make sure that system is here for the future.”

Coun Jones said: “Anyone who believes that they can’t afford to pay will be able to ask us review their circumstances to make sure their charge is at a level they can reasonably manage.

“This will have very little effect on service users on low incomes, impacts such as the rurality charge will only affect those who pay for their own care.”

The changes, which will apply from Monday, April 8, are:

The standard allowance for disability-related costs for people getting the highest rates of the main non-means-tested disability benefits is to be reduced to £35, which would increase the weekly charge for most people by

£13.30.

However, following a recent national decision, this was amended so that it is phased in; the allowance will be reduced to £40 for 2019-20 and £35 from April 2020.

The minimum income figures for members of a couple as set out in

national regulations are to be adopted, while capping the additional charge for working-age adults, in order to end an anomaly which means that people with a spouse or partner often pay less than single people in similar circumstances.

Charges for home care will now take account of the full cost to the council, up to the limit of what the person is assessed as able to afford to pay, with exceptions for the ‘very rural’ areas and other special circumstances. Currently, it is subsidised in rural areas to match the lower cost of home care in south-east Northumberland, where travel times are much shorter and it is easier to find carers.

All social-care day services will be charged for on the basis of their full cost, up to the limit of what each person is assessed as able to afford to pay, from October 1 this year.

People paying by direct debit will no longer get a four per cent discount, but in its place, there will be an introductory offer for new charge-payers of a £10 discount on their first three bills.

People with savings of more than £23,250 who choose to ask the council to arrange their services rather than making private arrangements will be asked to pay an administration fee. This fee to be based on the actual costs and initially set at £3.45 or £4 for people not paying by Direct Debit.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service