SOCIAL CARE AND OTHER BENEFITS

According to the Government, direct payments are a way to give you more choice and control of your personal care. Direct Payments are given directly to you by the local authority and because of this, you will be able to make choices regarding spending on your own care services (such as selecting and employing your own personal assistant or purchasing your own equipment). You may spend your direct payment in any way you wish in order to meet your eligible needs, but they cannot be used to pay for residential care or to buy services directly from the council. Crucially they are not counted as income when you are claiming social security benefits.

PERSONAL BUDGETS

It is a government aim that by 2013 every care user will have a personalised budget. In other words, a sum of money based on assessments of your eligible needs. You will be given the choice of how this should be spent. It can either be that you commission services on your behalf or take a direct payment (or it could be both).
Initially disabled people and their carers will be struck by the increase in their responsibility. However, personal budgets really do allow people to get the most out of their benefits by making personal choices, likes and dislikes count. In any case, if the system does not suit you, you can still revert back to letting the local authority steer you. The system has been on trial in certain areas for three years and will be ‘rolled out’ across the country this year.

SOCIAL CARE ASSESSMENTS

Local council’s use evidence gathered during assessments to ascertain whether you need any of the services that it might be able to offer or recommend to you. You have the right to request an assessment from the council and this can also take into account anybody that helps look after you. Such assessments cover your current daily needs as well as trying to anticipate any need you may have in the future. To this end a social worker will visit you at home to get an accurate picture of how you live, looking for any risks that could affect your health (physically and mentally).

THE NEEDS THE SOCIAL WORKER WILL EXAMINE INCLUDE:

• Personal care
• Health care
• Transport
• Employment and leisure
• Help at home
• Accommodation
• Finance

The assessment represents an opportunity to help your local authority understand the challenges of your disability. Be sure to explain any specific difficulties such as dressing yourself or preparing meals and so on. It may be useful to give details of any specific incidents, such as a fall in your home that illustrates the risks that you live with. (If you feel that your assessment needs are urgent you should tell the local authority. They have a duty to carry out their assessment within a maximum time frame of four weeks). The decisions based on the social care assessments will be measured against a government guide called ‘Fair Access to Care Services’. The guidance outlines different levels of severity: low, moderate, substantial and critical. You can ask the council for a copy of its eligibility criteria. Most council’s will only fund needs assessed at substantial or critical levels.

CARE OR SUPPORT PLAN

Once the entire assessment process is finished, the social worker will compile a ‘statement of needs’ and an action plan to meet those needs. The plan should be agreed with by you and include:

• Details of eligible needs and associated risks
• Details of services provided and how they will help you
• A plan to cope with emergencies
• A date for reassessment (should be within three month of commencement of service provision and at least annually in the future)
• Details of any charges that you will be expected to pay as well as any direct payments that you will use to arrange services for yourself

FUNDING

The council will take into account all they have found out during the assessment and decide how much money you might need to meet your care requirements. Since your financial situation cannot influence the care assessment it is only at this point that a financial assessment can begin.

The financial assessment criteria differ across the UK. Depending on where you live, if you have savings of between £22,000 and £24,750 (or more) you may not have to pay all of the costs of your care services. If you have fewer savings you may still be asked to contribute – this is decided on a case-by-case basis.

In any case, you must be able to afford to pay any contribution that the local authority decides you have to pay. A contribution can be waived entirely if you cannot pay it but a service cannot be taken away from you, although a local authority might choose to recover money owed to them through the courts.

There are several benefits and discounts available to the elderly people, including support with prescriptions, eye tests, heating costs, leisure and transport. Since eligibility is not through disability, they are not mentioned here.

TV LICENCE

There is a 50% discount on TV licence fees for people who are registered blind/severely sight impaired. Anyone in the household (including children) can receive the discount. (The licence will need to be transferred to their name)

THE LOWDOWN

A proper assessment can be undertaken to establish what your needs are, right down to the finer details of the type of wheelchair best suited to you, including the type of armrests and accessories such as trays and so on that you might require.
Depending on the outcome of your assessment and the area where you live, you may be offered a voucher towards the private purchase of a wheelchair. This is especially likely if the wheelchair that you require is not available (or stocked) by the NHS.

EMPLOYMENT

WORK RELATED BENEFITS

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is available to people who are unable to work or whose ability to work is limited by ill health or disability.

The two types of ESA are Contributory ESA (for those with sufficient national insurance contributions) and ‘Income-related ESA’ which is means tested and can help with mortgage interest payments.

The assessment phase for new claimants lasts 13 weeks during which you are paid the lower rate unless you are terminally ill. The assessment includes a work capability assessment based on a medical examination carried out by a healthcare professional for DWP. The results and any other medical evidence you submit will be used to bring together a decision regarding whether you have ‘limited capability for work activity’ and can stay on ESA and whether you also have a ‘limited capability for work-related activity’. This test will determine whether you are placed in the support group or in the work-related activity group.

Those placed in the work-related activity group are obliged to attend work-focused interviews with a personal advisor to discuss work prospects and draw up a plan to help you move back into work. If you are in the support group you can see an adviser if you wish. Whilst contributory-based ESA is payable to those in the work-related activity group for one year, it is paid indefinitely to those in the support group. Certain levels of permitted work are allowed without affecting ESA. These should be checked before you start with the Benefit Enquiry Line (BEL). ESA may also provide eligibility for working tax credit.

UTILITIES

Utility providers (gas, electricity and water) are required to provide specific services to meet the needs of the disabled people such as providing bills and other materials in accessible formats etc. You can also be asked to be placed on your suppliers priority list meaning a swifter reconnection to services in the event of a power cut (and help collecting water if the supply is cut off).

Some utility companies will also make grants available for people struggling with utility and household debts. These are variable from company to company (and regionally) and can be investigated at: www.charisgrants.com

WARM FRONT AND GREEN DEAL (ENERGY SAVING)

The cold can be a real enemy of disabled people. Certain conditions can be worsened or at least exacerbated by prolonged periods of cold or damp in the home. The scheme can package up ideas to reduce electricity and gas bills and might include loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, draught proofing and central heating.
You will be eligible if you already receive certain benefits (such as pension credit, income support, income-related employment and support allowance or income based jobseekers allowance). People who are aged over 60 and aren’t eligible for the full entitlement can still apply for a discount on the cost of installing central heating.

CARERS

If you look after a disabled adult or child, you can ask the social care department to carry out a carer’s assessment. This can help to identify effects of caring on your life and consider any support that may be available. The age of the person you care for is irrelevant and the assessment should also recognise that the carer may also be disabled.

When carrying out the assessment the local authority has a duty to explain that the carers have rights and must consider their wishes to work, study or carry out leisure activities. Other bodies, such as health, housing and education departments can be enlisted to provide support.

CARERS RIGHTS AT WORK

Carers that look after an adult have the right to request flexible working hours. If the carer is treated badly at work as a result of the care they give to a disabled person it may constitute discrimination. (Citizens Advice and ACAS can offer further advice).

CARERS ALLOWANCE

Full time carers of disabled adults or children that receive the middle or higher rate care component of disability living allowance or attendance allowance may be eligible for carer’s allowance.

The eligibility criterion includes:

Spending at least 35 hours a week caring.
Being aged between 16 and 65 at the time of claiming.
Not be in full time education.
Not be earning more from any employment than the current set amount after allowable expenses are deducted.

Carers allowance is not means tested but it is taxable. It attracts an extra carers premium for income support, employment support allowance, housing benefit whilst also providing national insurance credits that count towards entitlement for a retirement pension.

BENEFITS CAP

As of April 2013 there will be a limit on the amount of benefits most people between 16 and 65 can receive. The benefits cap has been set at:

£500 a week for couples,
£500 a week for lone parents whose children still live with them,
£350 a week for single adults,
The cap represents an amount combined from several different benefits.
There will be a period of 39 weeks when you will not be capped if you (or your partner) were working for a period of 50 weeks in the last 52 before claiming benefits, assuming you were working for at least 16 hours during your last week.
You will be exempted from the cap if anyone in your household is claiming:

Attendance Allowance
Disability Living Allowance
Employment and Support Allowance, support component
Industrial Injuries benefits
Personal Independence Payment
War disablements pension/armed forces compensation scheme payments
War widows or war widower’s pension
Working tax credit