Care charges: Councils of despair

Image of the article Councils of despair from Private Eye magazine.  Text is below in our blog post.
Private Eye magazine

We helped with this article (below). Thanks to Private Eye and Heather Mills for publicising, Cheshire DPAC/Oppose Social Care Charging in Cheshire and Inclusion London for getting Councils to release figures on how many sick and disabled people they threaten with court.

As it’s a paper magazine, here is the text for visually impaired readers:

Private Eye 2 March 2022 p.40

Social care

Councils of despair*

“Tens of thousands of sick and disabled people are being driven into debt over charges imposed by local authorities for the care and support they need to stay in their homes.

FOI requests across London and North-West England show that increasing numbers are facing the threat of court action for non-payment of care charges, which disability activists say is adding to the anxiety and difficulties they already face. Some have been forced to give up the help they need, because they simply cannot afford it.

The disabled women’s group WinVisible, has highlighted the case of a woman with advanced cancer, who was being charged £116 per week for seven-and-a-half hours care at home after her discharge from hospital. That took all of her PIP (personal independence payment), a benefit supposed to help with extra costs of living with disabilities, leaving £171.38 for all her living costs and disability expenses. Yet research by cancer charity Macmillan puts the average extra cost of living with the disease at over £140 a week, and disability charity Scope says the average extra weekly bill is around £146, rising to £250 in some cases.

WinVisible wrote to Camden council several times asking for the charges to be dropped or drastically reduced because of her needs and effect on her mental health. It detailed her added costs, including transport for hospital treatments, increased heating bills, and adapted furniture. But for a £500 specialist mattress, for example, Camden calculated it as a £1.53-a-week expense — over five years. The woman agreed to reduced hours in a bid to save money, but still faced a proportionally higher £78 bill. When she received a letter threatening to take her to court, the stress became too much and she decided to opt out of council provision altogether, relying instead upon friends. 

While continuing health care needs are funded entirely by the NHS, help with cooking, cleaning and personal care etc is classified as “social” care provided by the local authority, is means tested and can be taken from certain disability benefits even if you have little or no savings. Provision and charges however, can be a post-code lottery. Camden, like many other cash-strapped councils, say they are simply following the Care Act guidance. Charging is not obligatory, but Hammersmith and Fulham is the only authority in England to provide the service for free.

New figures obtained by both Cheshire Disabled People Against Cuts, and Inclusion London show that thousands of disabled people have had debt management processes started against them for unpaid care charges. For example Wigan council said that more than 4,633 had received at least a “first and final notice” letter for non-payment dating back to 2018. Cheshire East Council currently has 1,623 adult “debtors” (although some were in residential care). While the vast bulk of cases relate to threatening letters only, in London researchers found some local authorities had taken disabled people to court. Brent appeared to be one of the strictest enforcers, issuing 65 legal claims for care costs since 2018. Camden had 11.

As Eye readers are aware disabled people have been hit hardest by the health and financial impacts of the pandemic, by reduced support and now by rapidly increasing living costs. But no-one is holding their breath that proposed underfunded changes to adult social care will make life easier. In fact as local authorities look to balance their books, there will likely be more squeezes in adult social care.”

  • Note: Councils of despair is a play on words. Counsels of despair is “an action or statement that means that you admit you have failed” (Cambridge Dictionary).

WinVisible adds:

A woman also came to us about Charlie Ratchford Court “extra care” supported living housing block run by Camden, where she lives. She complained about the poor quality meals which residents have to pay £4.50 per day for. We also want to find out how much in-built social care charges residents have to pay.

Photo of a small dinner which takes up half of a takeaway box -- a packet pie, a few carrots and two small new potatoes.
One of the meals which she was charged £4.50 for.

Read more in the Camden New Journal here: “Would you fork out £4.50 for this meal?”

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