You may have read in, or heard on, the news that The Care Bill became the Care Act 2014 when it received the Royal assent recently; on the 14 May 2014, to be exact. Potentially, the Care Act 2014 contains some major reforms that will have important consequences for people receiving care in their homes. A reform of huge significance for everyone involves an upper limit, a cap, being placed on the amount that you as an individual will have to pay for your domiciliary care.
The Legislative Process
The Care Act 2014 (from now on referred to simply as the Act) is an Act of Parliament. An Act of Parliament – or a statute as it is often called – is law made by Parliament. Parliament consists of one elected body – the House of Commons – and two unelected bodies, the House of Lords and the Monarch. A statute begins its life as a Bill. To become law it must be passed by all three of the bodies that make up Parliament. In the Houses of Commons and the Lords this is achieved by the members voting in favour of the Bill. The Monarch – ie the Queen – grants her assent, which, it might be suggested, is a type of vote. The final stage in a Bill’s progression through Parliament is reached when it is granted Royal Assent, at which point a Bill becomes an Act.
However, just because a Bill has become an Act does not mean that its provisions have come into force; indeed, far from it. Today, it is fairly typical for a statute to be granted Royal Assent and only over a period of time – often a period of years – for its provisions to come into force. There are some Acts of Parliament various parts of which have never come into force.
The different parts of a statute are generally brought into force by a cabinet minister. Section 127 of the Care Act 2014 says “The provisions of Parts 1 to 4 come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order appoint.” Section 127 is known as a commencement section. Parts 1 to 4 are the main parts of the Act. Therefore, even though we now have a Care Act that is law in England and Wales, all the important reforms that it contains await implementation by the Secretary of State over time.
The Care Act 2014
The Act is long – 129 sections contained in 167 pages – and wide ranging. Norman Lamb, the care minister has described the Act as “[representing] the most significant reform of care and support in more than 60 years”. Speaking more generally about care and the new Act, Norman Lamb has commented that:
“Care and support is something that nearly everyone in this country will experience at some point in their lives… Even if you don’t need care yourself, you will probably know a family member or friend who does, or you may care for someone. And many more of us will need care in the future, so it is important for us to have a modern system that can keep up with the demands of a growing ageing population… Until now it’s been almost impossible for people who need care, carers, and even those who manage the care system, to understand how the previous law affecting them worked.”
Amongst other things, the Act deals with personal budgets, duties on local authorities, minimum eligibility thresholds and, of course, caps on the amount that you as an individual will have to pay for your care.
The Cap on Your Individual Care Costs
Under the current system, to qualify for your care costs to be paid fully by social services you need to have less than £23 250 in savings (known as your capital) and be on a low income.
The new Act provides the legislative framework to place a cap on the total amount that you will have to pay in your lifetime. There will be a needs assessment – currently known as a community care assessment. The care and support that you are assessed as requiring will be care and support for what will be known as your “eligible needs”. The cap on your care costs is the maximum amount that you will have to pay in your lifetime to meet your eligible needs.
It is important to note two points. First, at this moment in time the relevant part of the Act dealing with the cap has not been brought into force. The intention expressed by the government is that the cap will operate from April 2016. However, there will be a general election in 2015 and we may have a different government. As explained above, it is for the Secretary of State (who is Jeremy Hunt at the moment) to bring into force the relevant part of the Act.
The second thing to note is that there are no figures contained in the Act. Once again, the government has expressed an intention, this time to the effect that the cap should be set at £72 000. Just as with the implementation of the relevant part of the Act dealing with the cap itself, the actual figure at which the cap is set will be set and implemented by the Secretary of State.
The cap will not cover what are called “living costs”. This is highly relevant if you were looking to move into residential accommodation. The cap will not cover such costs as utility bills and food. The aim behind this is to try not to disadvantage those receiving domiciliary care. If you have home care; you still have to pay for things like heating and food. Therefore, excluding living costs from the cap attempts to gain some consistency between those in residential care and those receiving home care.
The cap will only cover the cost of meeting your eligible needs. You may want something extra. In such a case you will be expected to pay for that yourself. For example, if your eligible needs require a home care visit of 30 minutes each morning, only the cost of those visits are covered by the cap. If you wish to have a 45 minute call each day, you will have to pay for the extra 15 minutes.
There will no doubt be a good deal of media attention focused on the Care Act in the coming months. It will be interesting to see exactly what form implementation of the key parts of the Act take.