Clause 24 - The steps for the local authority to take

Care Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:15 pm ar 16 Ionawr 2014.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Llafur, South Shields 3:15, 16 Ionawr 2014

I beg to move amendment 113, in clause 24, page 22, line 26, at end add—

‘(3A) The Secretary of State after consultation must establish by regulation a specified timeframe for the conclusion of the steps required of local authorities by virtue of this section.’.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Llafur, South Shields

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Bayley.

Amendment 113 is aimed at ensuring that service users are clearly informed of when they will receive an assessment and whether any support identifying that assessment will be in place. At the moment, no time scale is set down in law regarding that process. The matter is left for local authorities to decide and implement. I acknowledge that there are performance indicators that say that local authorities should begin all assessments within 48 hours; complete them within 28 days; and have services in place within another 28 days. However, the reality on the ground is that those performance indicators are not having their desired effect. Stronger incentives are needed.

As a former social worker, I understand how that can happen. In many ways, the profession is a reactive one. There will always be priority cases to deal with, and someone else’s case will always be pushed to the bottom of the pile until they become critical. Under a straining system, in areas with high need and savage cuts, those indicators are not incentivising some local authorities to complete assessments and provide services in a timely manner. I know that some authorities go the extra mile, but many others fall short of those recommended time scales. A benchmark needs to be set in regulations to ensure that local authorities see that to be a priority.

The lack of consistency also creates an issue regarding portability. Social care clients who move from one authority to another commonly find that the timetabling arrangements for assessment are different. That can lead to uncertainty for them, their carers and their family. People with care and support needs require clarity about when they can expect to be assessed and when they can begin to receive support. For those who are in need, whose health is failing them, who have care needs, or who are anxious about what their future holds, I want them at least to know when they can expect help. I am sure that the Minister would want that too.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Llafur, Sheffield, Heeley

My point is related to clause stand part, but it probably makes sense for us to include it here, given your earlier guidance, Mr Bayley. It refers to the discussion that we had earlier and relates to subsection (3), paragraphs (a) and (b). It again concerns needs that might not be eligible needs and whether they would be met. [ Interruption. ] I see that the Minister is a little distracted at the moment.

I am asking whether the principle of a holistic approach applies to the application of subsection (3)(a) and (b). I am happy for the Minister to write to me on that point  to provide clarity on how assessors will approach the situation when some needs might not fulfil the eligibility criteria.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation, NATO Parliamentary Assembly (President)

For the sake of clarity I should say that I mistakenly said we were debating this amendment together with amendment 94. We have, of course, already concluded the debate on amendment 94. We are considering just amendment 113, which everyone who has spoken so far has addressed.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb The Minister of State, Department of Health

I am grateful, Mr Bayley, for that clarification. It did distract me briefly from what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley was saying. I would be grateful if she could clarify which subsection of clause 24 she referred to and repeat her point.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Llafur, Sheffield, Heeley

I referred to subsection (3) and the criteria under paragraphs (a) and (b). I am suggesting that a certain interpretation of those could lead to lower-level needs, not normally eligible for support, none the less being important in an holistic view of the situation. In subsection (3)(a) does “needs” mean that the overall needs of the person meet the eligibility criteria, or does it refer to specific individual needs?

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb The Minister of State, Department of Health

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point. Rather than give an inadequate response now, the best thing would be to write to her to ensure that we are both on the same wavelength, if that is acceptable.

On amendment 113, I can assure the Committee that we have looked very closely at the issue of timeliness in the care-planning process. I totally agree with the points that she makes and this issue was discussed in the other place.

It is vitally important that local authorities retain the ability to be proportionate to the needs to be met. For some people the care planning process may be relatively simple, and therefore can occur relatively quickly. That may not be the case for people with multiple complex needs. That is not to say that it is right that there should be any delay. It may just take longer to do a proper and thorough assessment in some cases. There may also be a need for experts and independent advocates to be engaged in some cases, as we have previously debated. That should not be overlooked in order to meet a centralised target of time scale. Introducing a prescribed time scale for the completion of the care-planning process may also have the unintended consequence—to coin a phrase that has been used on other occasions—of some plans being rushed in order to meet the deadline. There is a fear that that could happen. I hope the hon. Lady would agree that that does not fit well with our vision of a personalised care and support system.

In addition, the duty on local authorities to act reasonably applies to the care and support plan or support plan. That includes the time it takes to complete the process. We should also set out in guidance best practice regarding care and support planning, including indicative time scales for the completion of care and support plans. I hope that helps the hon. Lady. I absolutely agree with her that we do not want backlogs of cases where people may be in very real need waiting for something to happen, but a disorganised local authority  does not get its act together and deliver the care plan on time. That has to be avoided, but I hope that she will understand that we also want to avoid over-prescription, which could have the unintended consequence of rushing a care plan, which genuinely might take a significant amount of work to get right. With that, I hope I have provided the reassurance to enable the hon. Lady to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Llafur, South Shields

I thank the Minister for his response. I am comforted by what he said about indicative time scales, but the point I was trying to make is that the message is just not there in the legislation. It lacks weight because it is not in the legislation. Those time scales are not there, so people will not give it as much importance as it should have. I know that from speaking to social workers whom I know—just last night I was speaking to a former team manager—that they feel that the weight is not there and that it is not being given as much credence as it should be. However, bearing in mind what the Minister has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.