Report (2nd Day)

Part of Care Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 14th October 2013.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 5:30 pm, 14th October 2013

I shall come on to the standard scheme proposal in a moment. We need to ensure that this arrangement is rolled out in a way that is financially sustainable for the local authority in each case. We will be supporting the implementation of the capped costs system and an extension of deferred payments with £335 million, which should enable this to happen.

I shall move on to the amendments themselves. I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not rehearse at length the same points that I made about financial advice last week, but I should like to take a moment to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, on the specifics of his proposal. It is imperative that everyone has access to sound, reliable information and advice while making decisions about their care to ensure that any option they choose makes good financial sense for them and is sustainable in the long term. It is clear that local authorities have a central role to play in ensuring that their local populations are aware of the range of information and advice, both regulated and non-regulated, that is available to them and that they know how to access it. Last Wednesday, your Lordships accepted my Amendments 16 and 17 which clarify this. The noble Lord’s amendment would underscore the need to make sure that everyone who decides to take out a deferred payment agreement reaches that decision in a considered and informed manner. I agree that that should be the case. All too often, people do not plan ahead for the possibility of needing care and so can find themselves having to make important and lasting financial decisions in a moment of crisis.

Deferred payment agreements can be used to reduce some of this urgency and ought to be accessible to ensure that they provide the peace of mind that they are intended to. For this reason I would hesitate to make the process through which a person can access a deferred payment too onerous. We are currently consulting on the information and advice a person should receive before taking out a deferred payment agreement. We will listen carefully to what is said and we will use this to inform the approach that should be taken. I have already given the noble Lord my undertaking to discuss further what remaining differences we have about financial advice, if any, and I hope that those discussions will allow us to explain in more detail our policy intentions and what our own government amendments in this area aim to achieve. I hope that the noble Lord will agree that we are essentially of the same view about this and that he will be content to discuss the matter with me further outside the Chamber. That being so, I hope that he is sufficiently reassured today to withdraw his amendment.

I turn to Amendment 63, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler. We are in concordance with them that a model deferred payment agreement would help local authorities and that is why we already have one in place for the schemes that are currently operating. What we intend to do now is build on and improve the current model. In doing that, we will work in partnership with local authorities to learn from the well established schemes, some of which have a decade of experience. While the case for a model scheme is clear, I think it would be wrong to mandate national systems and structures for deferred payment agreements. It is important that we strike the right balance between local flexibility and national consistency. Systems and structures must be developed in partnership with local government and allow for and, indeed, encourage local efficiencies to flourish. As noble Lords may know, we have established with the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services the joint implementation and programme board to support the implementation of these reforms more generally and, through this, we will support local authorities to deliver the universal scheme from April 2015. This work will include our commitment to providing a model deferred payment scheme, based on the current model, as well as statutory guidance to support local authorities in exercising these functions.

The statutory guidance on deferred payments, in particular, will have a clear legal status. Local authorities must act under this guidance. This means that they must consider and should follow it, unless they have a justifiable reason not to do so. This would seem to be the same status as is envisaged by noble Lords in their amendment. I hope therefore the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment in light of the reassurance I have given on supporting local authorities to deliver the universal deferred payment scheme and the model agreement in particular.

My noble friend Lady Barker asked whether the scheme was a model for how local authorities manage the burden on themselves. This is not designed to be a scheme that makes a profit for local authorities. The interest rate is likely to be set at a rate which recognises local authority borrowing rates, and so ensures that the scheme is cost-neutral.