How a local authority care needs assessment works

What is a care needs (or social care) assessment?

If you need help with everyday tasks, your local council has a legal duty to carry out an assessment to find out what help you need.

In Northern Ireland, the Health and Social Care Trust does this.

Lots of people are put off by the idea of an assessment, but it’s not something to worry about.

It’s simply a way of working out your individual care and support needs so your local authority or trust can decide the best way to help you.

The process the assessment has to follow is set out in law. It allows you to take the lead in explaining what care and support you need to make life easier for you and the outcome you’re looking for. Your wellbeing and wishes must be considered throughout.

For example, you might want to stay in your home – and this must be taken into consideration.

Or, if your care needs have stopped you from joining in activities outside the home, but this is something you want to do, this must be part of the assessment and care plan process.

Do I qualify for a care needs assessment?

If you have a condition that goes up or down, it’s useful to make a list of things you find difficult, especially on ‘bad’ days. You can discuss during the assessment.

Similarly, if you care for someone, you’re also entitled to ask for a free carer’s assessment. This can be a separate assessment or combined with an assessment of the person needing care.

How do I get a care needs assessment?

Ask the adult social services department of your local council (or Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland) for one.

Explain that you need some help. This might be managing at home, a place at a day-care centre or moving into a care home.

In England and Wales, find your local council on the GOV.UK website

In Scotland, find your local council on the mygov.scot website

In Northern Ireland, find your local Health and Social Care Trust on the nidirect website

Or someone else – such as your carer or a health professional – might refer you to your local council or trust for a needs assessment.

Urgent assessments

In some cases, a local council can begin providing services before there’s been a care needs assessment. They’ll do this if they believe you need urgent support.

A full assessment will take place as soon as possible to make sure you have the right support.

How the care needs assessment is carried out

A care specialist will carry out the assessment on behalf of the local council or NHS.

This could be an occupational therapist, a nurse or a social worker, or a combination of these. This is so you don’t have to go through various assessments from different agencies.

The assessment might be done over the phone or involve you completing a self-assessment form with support from your local council. Or it could be done face-to-face, usually in your own home.

It’s a good idea to have a friend or family member with you so that they can help you explain how your condition affects you.

If you find it hard to understand the care process or find it difficult to discuss the issues, there are people who can act as a spokesperson for you. These are called advocates.

To find one, contact social services at your local council and ask about advocacy services.

If you haven’t arranged for an advocate to be with you during the assessment but you need one, the local council must arrange an independent advocate to help you.

During the assessment, you’ll explore how difficult you find it to carry out activities in your everyday life. This includes washing and dressing, managing your toilet needs and living safely in your home. These are sometimes known as the ‘eligibility outcomes’.

If someone already helps you with these activities, this still counts as a need you have. So it’s important you should make sure that the assessor knows you find it hard to carry out these tasks either with or without help.

The assessor needs to know how many tasks you can’t manage so they can work out whether you‘re eligible for support.

What happens after the care needs assessment?

After your care needs assessment, your local council or trust will let you know whether, in principle, you qualify for care and support.

This decision is made by comparing your care needs with a set of nationally agreed criteria, which all local councils must use.

You will qualify for care and support if:

  • you have a mental or physical need or you have an illness
  • you’re unable to achieve two or more of the everyday tasks (or ‘eligibility outcomes’). These are things like preparing and consuming food and drink, or getting yourself washed and dressed
  • there’s a significant impact on your wellbeing because you’re not getting the help you need.

If the local council agrees in principle that you qualify for local council care services and support, they’ll usually carry out a financial assessment to see if you have to pay some or all the cost yourself.

To find out more:

Agreeing a local council care package

You’ll get a written copy of your care plan, setting out detailed information about the care services you need. These might include:

  • a place in a residential care or nursing home
  • disability equipment and adaptations to your home – such as grab rails, stairlifts or ramps
  • home care help with things like cleaning, meals and shopping
  • day care for your child if either you or they have a disability
  • a day centre place to give you or the person who cares for you a break
  • a ‘careline’ phone system so that you can call for help in an emergency.

Reviewing your care and support plan

When you have an agreed care and support plan, you have a right to ask for a review at any time if you think your care needs or your financial situation has changed.

Even if nothing has changed, your local council must review it regularly – usually once a year.

What if you move outside your local area?

If you move to a different area, both local councils must work together to make sure that you’ll still get the support you need in your new home.

It’s up to you to let your new local council know that you’re moving into their area. This is so they can get a copy of your needs assessment and care and support plan. Or you can let your existing local council know, and they’ll contact your new one.

If you have a carer, the local council in the new area must support them too if they’re coming with you.

If you don’t qualify for local authority support with care

If your local council tells you that you don’t qualify for support because your care needs aren’t great enough, they must still give you information and advice about where else you can get help. For example, through charities or other local organisations.

This information must be tailored to your needs.

If you don’t agree with the result of the care needs assessment, ask your local council for a full written explanation of their assessment and how they came to their decision.

If you’re still unhappy after reading their explanation, contact your local council and explain why you think their decision is unfair.

Every social services department has a complaints procedure and must tell you how to use it.

Paying for care - the financial assessment or means test

When your local council or trust has worked out what care services you need, they’ll then carry out a financial assessment. This is called a ‘means test’.

This will work out if you need to contribute towards the cost of your care, and whether the local council will pay for all or some of your care costs.

Although your local council will only pay for social care services, it might also give you information and advice about healthcare services – such as nursing care – which are normally provided by the NHS.

Some disabilities, injuries, long-term conditions or complex medical problems can mean you qualify for NHS continuing healthcare funding. This might cover some of the social care aspects of your long-term care, as well as healthcare.

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Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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