Committee (6th Day)

Part of Care Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 16th July 2013.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 6:30 pm, 16th July 2013

My Lords, not for the first time, I find myself in sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and the concerns she has raised about the Bill’s practical implementation. I am sure it is a shared view across the Committee that people should be supported to remain independent within their own homes for as long as possible. As the Bill recognises, supporting carers and preventing or delaying the need for care and support are both vital to achieving this goal.

On the specific amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, our previous debate shows the value and importance which noble Lords place on carers and the need to support them. I thank the noble Baroness for her recognition of the significant improvement that this Bill will make. I reassure her that the Bill makes it clear that local authorities cannot charge carers for services provided to the person being cared for. Our clear view is that Clause 14(3) puts this matter beyond doubt, and this would include services of an intimate nature provided to the person being cared for.

Local authorities need to retain the flexibility to meet the needs of carers in the most appropriate way. This might include providing services to the adult needing care such as feeding them or taking them to the toilet. Providing these services is necessary to allow carers of people with the greatest needs to take a well earned break from their responsibilities. However, Amendment 89A would create a legal barrier which may hinder the provision of support to carers. For that reason, I do not warm to it.

Amendment 89B would ensure that services provided to carers were provided free of charge by the NHS. Local authorities currently do not usually charge carers, as they recognise the vital work that they do. In some cases, however, local authorities may charge a fee for services provided directly to carers, such as when the local authority arranges a trip for them. We want to continue to give local authorities this flexibility.

The noble Baroness expressed a worry about the scope for different interpretation about who is the beneficiary of a particular service. In most cases, I suggest that it will be clear what is being provided to the adult needing care and support as opposed to the carer. However, statutory guidance will be provided to help to promote national consistency on that point. I hope that that reassurance will provide the noble Baroness with the wherewithal to withdraw the amendment for the time being although I will, of course, reflect further on what she has said.

On Amendments 89BA and 92ZZM, I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Low, that we intend to maintain the existing entitlements to aids, minor adaptations and intermediate care in regulations. Aids and minor adaptations costing up to £1,000 will continue to be provided free and without the need for a financial assessment. We will shortly be consulting on the implementation of our reforms to care and support funding, which will inform the future regulations. In designing the new regulations, we will consider whether we should update the list of services which must be provided free of charge. However, we must bear in mind that further limitations on the ability of local authorities to charge would reduce the resources available to support people with the greatest needs. The draft regulations will be subject to a further public consultation to ensure the final regulations are based on the best available evidence.

As I indicated earlier, we are introducing a fairer system, including a cap on care costs. It is right that people who can afford to do so should continue to contribute a fair amount towards their care costs, and when they do not, Clause 64 allows local authorities to recover these costs as a debt. I understand the desire to protect people who make mistakes or accidentally fail to disclose relevant information. However, I fear that Amendment 104ZB, which would require local authorities to prove intent, would result in complex and expensive legal cases. Intent is not always easy to prove. Local authorities will not be able to charge people more than their due debt and the costs incurred in recovering that debt, and we think it is right that they should be able to do so even if someone has made a genuine mistake. This is not about instituting recriminations but about correcting mistakes. We should surely allow local authorities to take action in such a case if we believe in protecting public money.