Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Letter from the Secretary of State to the Chairman of the Committee (PC 25B)

  Dear Archy,

  I agreed, during Wednesday's Select Committee hearing, to write to you with more details on the interaction between Pension Credit and Department of Health charging systems for residential and domiciliary care.

  As I pointed out during the hearing, the assessment of the amount that people should pay towards their care costs is a matter for Local Authorities and the Department of Health.

  In respect of charging for residential care services, the Department of Health is currently considering the best way forward and is working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions on the links between Pension Credit and its charging policies.

  As regards domiciliary care the Department of Health published, on November 23, 2001, new guidance for local councils setting out a fairer charging framework for home care services. Although councils will still have discretion on whether to charge at all—the new guidance provides clear objectives to councils who do charge, to ensure more consistency and fairer charging systems.

  The guidance recommends that, from October 2002, charges should not reduce users' incomes below basic levels of Income Support, plus a margin of 25 per cent. This will be a significant improvement for many users—for example, the Audit Commission study Charging with Care, found that one third of councils levy a charge on recipients of Income Support.

  The guidance will be updated by Autumn 2003 to reflect the introduction of Pension Credit, but the current guidance should ensure that the vast majority of Pension Credit recipients (around ninety per cent of those entitled to Pension Credit) will also be entitled to free home care. The Department for Work and Pensions will continue to work with the Department of Health to ensure that developing policy on home care charging is as "joined up" as possible and that few pensioners are subject to a "postcode lottery" when it comes to home care charges.

  The Government also recognises the fact that many care users are being charged without getting good advice about other benefits they may be entitled to. Together with the Department of Health we are aiming to tackle this failing. For example, the new guidance for local councils on charging for home care services expects, from April 2003, councils to provide joined-up benefits advice along with an assessment of ability to pay charges, to the benefit of users. In addition, the new Pension Service local service will provide a framework for the Government, working in partnership with local authorities, to ensure that pensioners are encouraged to claim all the benefits and services to which they are entitled.

  I look forward to reading the Report of the Select Committee.

Rt Hon Alistair Darling MP

15 March 2002

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