Care system `in chaos'

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The Independent Online
Urgent reform is needed to iron out "unacceptable" disparities in the way local authorities charge people for social care, ranging from home-helps and meals-on-wheels to places in residential and nursing homes, the National Consumer Council said yesterday, writes Nicholas Timmins.

In the biggest survey yet undertaken of such charges, the NCC says the system is "chaotic" and inequitable. Widely different criteria and means tests are used to calculate charges with some even charging those who are on income support - a policy for which the NCC said there is "no justification".

Some local authorities take into account the resources of people's partners, whether married or unmarried. Some operate flat-rate charges, charges related to usage, or charges related to means. Savings, property and state benefits are all taken into account in different ways by different authorities, the NCC said after surveying the charging policies of 40 different councils. The overall picture is "chaotic", Lady Wilcox, the NCC's chairwoman, said.

The NCC calls for the Department of Health to conduct fuller research aimed at producing much clearer guidance.

t Charging Consumers for Social Services: NCC, 20 Grosvenor Gdns, SW1; pounds 11.50.