Councils facing care obligation: Charities told health reforms put legal duty on local authorities

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LOCAL authorities have a legal obligation to inform people of services the council has assessed they need and to provide the services, regardless of resources available, according to a legal opinion on the implications of community care.

The advice from the barrister Alan Moses QC, sought by eight charities, claims that people for whom community care is intended - the elderly, disabled and other vulnerable groups - do acquire 'substantial new legal rights' after community care is implemented today.

The changes have been heralded by the Government as a 'needs-led' system, but government guidance implies that councils do not have to record or to tell service users of their 'unmet need.' Mr Moses says the guidance is 'inadequate, misleading and wrong'.

Tim Yeo, a junior health minister, said that councils should not list services assessed to be necessary but which could not be provided within the resources available. Mr Moses said the councils were obliged to assess a person's needs where it appears a person may be in need of such services, and obliged to provide many services without taking account of the availability of resources.

Earlier, Labour councils and the Labour Party predicted that local authorities will be sued for failing to deliver services promised by the new community care policy.

At the launch of Labour's alternative community care plans yesterday, they warned that the Department of Health could also face legal action for failing to provide adequate resources to councils to finance responsibilities imposed by the reforms.

Rita Stringfellow, vice-chairwoman of the Labour-dominated Association of Metropolitan Authorities social services committee, said: 'Many people are going to be disappointed they won't get the services they know they need and we know they need. Councils may well face legal challenges in the court in terms of not being able to provide services people require.'

David Hinchliffe, Labour's spokesman on community care, said the changes were underfunded by at least pounds 135m on a distribution formula which bore no relation to known needs in different areas. He said the changes would cause chaos.

However Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, dismissed claims that community care was under-funded. She said councils had 'eagerly sought' the new responsibilities and they must be accountable for the successful delivery of the reforms.

'The Government has given an extra pounds 565m, ring-fenced, to enable councils to meet their new duties. This money, which represents a 35 per cent increase on what otherwise would have been spent under the old system, is very fair funding,' she said.

The drawbacks, page 27

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