How a local authority care needs assessment works

A care needs assessment from your local authority can be the first step towards getting the help and support you need with your everyday life. The aim is to work out how much help you need to enable you to live as independently as possible.

What is a care needs (or social care) 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 Health and Social Care Trust does this.

Lots of people are put off by the idea of an assessment, but it’s not something to worry about.

It’s simply a way of working out your individual care and support needs so your local authority or trust can decide the best way to help you.

The process the assessment has to follow is set out in law. It allows you to take the lead in explaining what care and support you need to make life easier for you and the outcome you’re looking for. Your wellbeing and wishes must be considered throughout.

For example, you might want to stay in your home, and this must be taken into consideration.

Or, if your care needs have stopped you from joining in activities outside the home, but this is something you want to do, this must be part of the assessment and care plan process.

Am I eligible for a care needs assessment?

Did you know?

You’re entitled to a free care needs assessment regardless of how much savings you have or your income. And it doesn’t matter how complex or simple your needs are.

If you have a condition that goes up or down, it’s useful to make a list of things you find difficult, especially on ‘bad’ days you can discuss during the assessment.

Similarly, if you care for someone, you’re also entitled to request a free carer’s assessment. This can be a separate assessment or combined with an assessment of the person needing care.

Take a look at our guide to Support services available to carers.

How do I get a care needs assessment?

Top tip

It’s important not to feel embarrassed or ashamed – getting the right support depends on you being open about your needs..

Ask the adult social services department of your local authority (or Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland) for one. Explain that you need some help. This might be managing at home, a place at a day-care centre or moving into a care home.

Or, someone else – such as your carer or a health professional – might refer you to your local authority or trust for a needs assessment.

Urgent assessments

In some cases, a local authority can begin providing services before there has been a care needs assessment. They’ll do this if they believe you need urgent support.

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

How the care needs assessment is carried out

A care specialist will carry out the assessment on behalf of the local authority or NHS.

This could be an occupational therapist, a nurse or a social worker, or a combination of these. This is so you don’t have to go through various assessments from different agencies.

The assessment may be done over the phone or involve you completing a self-assessment form with support from your local authority. Or it could be done face-to-face, usually in your own home.

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

If you find it hard to understand the care process or find it difficult to discuss the issues, there are people who can act as a spokesperson for you. These are called advocates. To find one, contact social services at your local council and ask about advocacy services.

Find your local social services on the NHS website.

If you haven’t arranged for an advocate to be with you during the assessment but you need one, the local authority must arrange an independent advocate to help you.

During the assessment, you will explore how difficult you find it to carry out activities in your everyday life. This includes washing and dressing, managing your toilet needs and living safely in your home. These are sometimes known as the ‘eligibility outcomes’.

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

The assessor needs to know how many tasks you can’t manage so they can work out whether you‘re eligible for support.

What happens after the care needs assessment?

After your care needs assessment, your local authority or trust will let you know whether, in principle, you’re eligible for care and support.

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

You will qualify for care and support if:

  • you have a mental or physical need or you have an illness
  • you’re unable to achieve two or more of the everyday tasks (or ‘eligibility outcomes’). These are things like preparing and consuming food and drink, or getting yourself washed and dressed
  • there’s a significant impact on your wellbeing because you’re not getting the help you need.

If the local authority agrees in principle that you’re eligible for local authority care services and support, they’ll usually carry out a financial assessment to see if you have to pay some or all the cost yourself.

These guides will tell you more:

Agreeing a local authority care package

Did you know?

Your local authority is only responsible for your personal care needs. The NHS is responsible for your healthcare needs.

You’ll get a written copy of your care plan, setting out detailed information about the care services you need. These might include:

  • a place in a residential care or nursing home
  • disability equipment and adaptations to your home – such as grab rails, stairlifts or ramps
  • home care help with things like cleaning, meals and shopping
  • day care for your child if either you or they have a disability
  • a day centre place to give you or the person who cares for you a break
  • a ‘careline’ phone system so that you can call for help in an emergency.

Reviewing your care and support plan

When you have an agreed care and support plan, you have a right to ask for a review at any time if you think your care 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 to a different area, both local authorities must work together to make sure that you’ll still receive the support you need in your new home.

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

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

If you don’t qualify for local authority support with care

If your local authority tells you 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 result of the care needs assessment, 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 in our guide on How to challenge your local authority over your care.

Paying for care - the financial assessment or means test

When your local authority or trust has worked out what care services you need, they’ll then 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.

Find out more in our Means test for help with care costs – how they work guide.

Although your local authority will only pay for social care services, it may also give you information and advice about healthcare services (such as nursing care) which are normally provided by the NHS.

Some disabilities, injuries, long-term conditions or complex medical problems can mean you are eligible for NHS continuing healthcare funding. This may cover some of the social care aspects of your long-term care, as well as healthcare.

See our guide on Are you eligible for NHS continuing healthcare funding?opens in new window to find out more.

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