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The Department of Health and Social Care has published guidance to local authorities relating to the new Coronavirus Act powers available to suspend Care Act duties as the UK continues efforts to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

The government guidance sets out how local authorities should use the new Care Act easements, highlighting that the powers are only to be introduced “when the workforce is significantly depleted, or demand on social care increased, to an extent that it is no longer reasonably practicable for it to comply with its Care Act duties.”

If the powers are used, one of the key changes will be to an individual’s right to be assessed for social care, with local authorities no longer being required to carry out detailed care or financial assessments as required by the Care Act.

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In the event that local authorities did use this power, they would still be required to respond for care and support requests within a timeframe that would not contravene a person’s human rights.

In addition to assessment changes, local authorities would not have to prepare or review care and support plans to the provisions detailed in the Care Act.

The changes have concerned a number of charities that worry that both vulnerable people may be left without the vital support needed, particularly during the crisis.

“Disability Rights UK urges local authorities not to suspend Care Act rights. There is a real danger that moving to new untested ways of assessing, delivering and prioritising care will lead to disabled people with high care needs falling through the cracks, being alone and unsupported,” commented Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy at Disability Right UK.

“We would ask directors of social care to consult with organisations supporting disabled people throughout the crisis, to gain information and understanding of the lived experience of disabled people and to develop and monitor strategies that support and protect us. A serious omission from the guidance is not requiring directors of social care to consult with disabled people’s organisations in the lead up to making a decision to suspend Care Act rights, and we would urge local authorities to consult disabled people’s organisations as part of the process.”

In the guidance, the government emphasises that the powers are “time-limited and are there to be used as narrowly as possible”, advising all local authorities to continue meeting existing duties set out in the Care Act wherever possible.

Raising the potential impact the measures may have on carers, Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said: “We recognise these are temporary measures which should help local services better cope with coronavirus, however, this guidance comes at a time when social care services have been cut back year after year. Many families who do receive some form of care have a much-reduced package of support, having had to meet much higher thresholds to get the care they need.

“As local authorities respond to coronavirus, carers are hugely concerned about whether the services they depend on will continue, and if they’re cut, whether they’ll be reinstated.

“Carers UK will be closely monitoring the impact of local decision-making on unpaid carers and feeding back their concerns to Government.”

Read the full guidance.

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