New research reveals the postcode lottery governing how much local authorities charge for home care and who they determine is eligible to receive it. Some provide it free, while others demand £20 an hour. Seventy percent of local authorities restrict home care to those with critical or substantial needs.
Home care rationing
Using Freedom of Information requests, Which? Money compared the eligibility criteria of 154 local authorities in England and Wales. While Calderdale, Darlington and Sunderland provide home care for all who need it, seventy percent of authorities now restrict home care to those assessed as having 'critical' or 'substantial' needs. Three authorities, West Berkshire, Northumberland and Wokingham, go one step further and only provide care to those with 'critical' needs.
Huge variation in costs
Most local authorities charge for social care in the home (domiciliary care), although Derbyshire, Newham and Tower Hamlets provide it free, as do authorities in Scotland. Hourly charges, revealed in response to our FOI requests, vary enormously. The most expensive authorities charge around £20 (Surrey £21.66, Cheshire East £19.80, Poole £19.70), while Barnsley charges just £5 an hour and Pembrokeshire £5.75.
Not all recipients of home care pay this much, as care charges are means tested. Those with savings of less than £14,250 receive care free, while those with less than £23,250 may have their fees reduced. Anyone with over £23,250 is expected to pay the full cost, unless their local authority operates a weekly cap on charges. Unlike the financial assessment for residential care, the value of your house is not taken into account when your ability to pay for home care is assessed.
Charges cap raised or removed
The maximum weekly charge varies depending on where you live. In Barnsley weekly charges are capped at £60, in Haringey the cap is £550, while in Brighton it is £850. A number of authorities have removed their cap for 2010-11, having had one in the previous year. Where fees are uncapped the only restriction is the requirement that home care charges don't leave you with income of less than £165.75 (2010-11) per week.
Meal prices also differ
Another area where costs vary significantly is the cost of a meal if this is provided by the local authority (at home or in a daycare centre). The most expensive meals are in Northamptonshire (£6.26) and Richmond (£5.99), the cheapest are Derbyshire (£1.40) and Liverpool (£2).
Commenting on the report's findings, Which? chief executive, Peter Vicary-Smith said: 'It’s ludicrous that people living just a few miles apart can pay wildly different amounts for the same services. Everyone should have comparable access to the care and support they need to remain independent and in their own home, regardless of where they live.
'By intervening early, the few local authorities that do provide in-home care for everyone who needs are saving themselves money in the long-run as providing care gets more expensive as people’s needs become more critical.'