Disabled people in Richmond 'opting out of care over fears they'll fall into debt' as council asked to scrap charges
By Heather Nicholls
8th Feb 2024 | Local News
Richmond Council is facing calls to scrap care charges for some disabled people over concerns they are opting out of care because they are scared they will fall into debt.
One resident said the proposed changes would mean they could put the heating on more and buy better food.
The demands came as the council's adult social services committee discussed its proposed budget for the 2024/25 financial year on February 6.
As part of the proposals, Green Cllr Niki Crookdake called for people at the highest level of need to be exempted from paying contributions towards their care.
This would require a change to the council's means-tested adult social care contributions policy for non-residential care, which uses a financial assessment to determine how much a person pays towards their care at home or in other community settings.
Cllr Crookdake is working with officers to finalise the proposed change to the committee's budget this would require.
She said there are around 1,100 people in Richmond with a non-residential care package, including a smaller group with long-term progressive health issues who are entitled to the highest level of disability benefits and on income benefits.
As a result of living solely on benefit income, she said, these people have little cash left for spending and are at the sharpest end of the cost-of-living crisis.
She told the meeting: "Even small care contributions result in insufficient income to cover essential costs let alone provide discretionary income for activities that contribute to a meaningful life.
"Whilst the means-tested policy in theory considers service users' costs, in practice disability-related expenditure is often understated.
"Service users are faced with contribution rates they can't afford and fearful of falling into debt stop care they desperately need."
Cllr Crookdake said there are people in Richmond who are "having to make decisions to stop or reduce care they need in order to afford to pay assessed contribution rates".
She argued scrapping "care charging at this highest level of need will save time and resources" and have a positive impact on the budget in the medium to long term.
Cllr Crookdake read out a statement from an affected resident, which said: "Not having to make care contributions would improve my quality of life considerably. It would enable me to have the heating on more, buy better food, go to a specialised gym or have a therapy dog for company – things I don't do at the moment because I don't want to fall into debt."
Sarah Evans, head of finance, said the council's current policy considers individual circumstances and applies some discretion.
She said: "If any changes are agreed, we just need to ensure that the policy remains equitable between all different service users and that there aren't any unintended consequences of doing so."
Overall, the proposed budget for the committee in 2024/25 is £64.4million.
This covers services that fall under its remit, including adult social care, housing, health, environment and community services.
The budget proposals will be voted on by the council in March.