How a local authority care-needs assessment works

If you need support with everyday needs, you’ll have to talk to your local authority about getting a care needs assessment to work out how much help you need. Read our guide to find out how they work.

What is a local authority care needs assessment?

If you need help with everyday tasks your local authority has a legal duty to carry out an assessment to find out what help you need.

In Northern Ireland the assessment is carried out by the Health and Social Care Trust.

Many people are put off by the idea of an assessment, but it’s not something you should worry about. A care needs assessment is not a test you can pass or fail. It’s simply a straightforward way of working out your individual care needs so that your local authority or trust can decide the best way to help you.

How does a care needs assessment work?

Top tip

Some people who are ill or disabled find it useful to make a list of things they find difficult, especially on ‘bad’ days, so they can discuss them during the assessment.

New rules in the 2014 Care Act allow you to take the lead in explaining what care and support you need to make life easier for you. The Care Act places your wellbeing at the centre of your support needs.

For example, you might want to stay in your home, and this must be taken into consideration. Assessment and planning will take into account what is important for you, balancing wellbeing and risk.

The assessment looks at the impact on other areas of your life and how this affects your general wellbeing.

For example, if in the past your care needs have prevented you from joining in activities outside the home – but this is something want to do – then this must be part of the assessment and care plan process.

What happens at the assessment?

The assessment will be carried out by a care specialist on behalf of the local authority or NHS. This could be an occupational therapist, a nurse or a social worker, for example.

Together you will explore how difficult you find it to carry out activities in your everyday life, such as washing and dressing, managing your toilet needs or living safely in your home. These are known as care outcomes.

If someone already helps you with these activities, this still counts as a need you have, so you should make sure that the assessor knows you find it hard to carry out these tasks either with or without help.

They need to know how many care outcomes you are unable to achieve to work out whether you are eligible for support.

It’s a good idea to take a friend or family member with you to the assessment so that they can help you explain how your condition affects you.

If there isn’t anyone who could go with you and you would find it very difficult to understand the assessment or to explain your needs, the council must arrange an independent advocate to help you at the assessment.

What happens after the assessment?

Once your care needs assessment has been completed, your local authority or trust will decide what care services it can provide or arrange for you, or that you can organise yourself through a direct payment.

This decision is made by comparing your care needs with a set of nationally agreed criteria which all local authorities must use.

The assessor must also take into account how these needs affect your general well-being when they decide if you need support.

You will qualify for care and support if:

  • you have a mental or physical need or you are suffering from an illness
  • you are unable to achieve two or more of the care outcomes – these are things like whether you need help to prepare and consume food and drink, or to get washed and dressed
  • there is a significant impact on your well-being because you’re not getting the help you need

You can find out about the eligibility criteria on your local authority’s website.

  • Apply to your local authority’s social services department for support with your care needs.
  • In Northern Ireland, find your local Health and Social Care Trust on the nidirect websiteopens in new window.

Agreeing a package of care

Did you know?

Your local authority is only responsible for your personal care needs. Health care needs are the responsibility of the NHS.

Detailed information about the care services you need will be included in your care plan, which you’ll get a written copy of.

Care services include:

  • home care help with things like cleaning and shopping
  • disability equipment and adaptations to your home
  • day centres to give you or the person who cares for you a break
  • day care for your child if either you or they have a disability
  • residential care or nursing homes

Reviewing your care and support plan

Once your care and support plan has been agreed you have a right to ask for a review at any time if you think your care and wellbeing needs or your financial situation has changed.

Even if nothing has changed, the local authority must review it regularly, usually once a year.

What if you move outside your local area?

If you move outside your local area, both local authorities must work together to make sure that you will still receive the support you need in your new home.

It is up to you let the new local authority know that you’re moving to their area so they can get a copy of your needs assessment and care and support plan.

If you have a carer the local authority in the new area must support them too if they are coming with you.

Urgent assessments

In some cases, a local authority can begin providing services before a care-needs assessment has been carried out if they believe support is needed urgently.

A full assessment will take place as soon as possible to make sure the right support is in place.

If you don’t qualify for support with care

If your local authority thinks that you don’t qualify for support because your care needs aren’t great enough, they must still give you information and advice about where else you can get help, for example through charities or other local organisations.

This information must be tailored to your needs. If you don’t agree with the decision you can challenge it.

You don’t agree with your care needs assessment

If you don’t agree with the outcome of the care needs assessment, your first step is to ask your local authority for a full written explanation of their assessment and how they came to their decision.

If you’re still unhappy after reading their explanation, contact your local authority and explain why you think their decision is unfair.

Every social services department has a complaints procedure, and must tell you how to use it.

Find out more about how to challenge a decision by following the link below.

Paying for care

Once your local authority or trust has carried out your care needs assessment and worked out what care services you need, they’ll carry out a financial assessment. This is called a ‘means test’.

This will work out if you need to contribute towards the cost of your care, and whether the local authority will pay for all or some of your care costs.

Your local authority will only pay for community care services and can’t provide nursing care. However, some disabilities, injuries, long-term conditions or complex medical problems can mean you are eligible for NHS Continuing Care funding for your long-term care.

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