(2) what mechanisms exist to ensure that social care charges to individuals do not exceed the income they receive.
It is for councils to decide how to set charges for non-residential social services. The legal basis is that charges generally should be 'reasonable' and that no one should be asked to pay more than they reasonably can. The position contrasts with that on charges for residential care, where regulations prescribe a national means test, which councils must follow.
The Department of Health issued statutory guidance, “Fairer Charging Policies for Home Care and other Non-residential Social Services—Guidance for Councils with Social Services Responsibilities”, which is available in the Library, to all local councils in November 2001. It was amended in September 2003 to reflect the introduction of pension credits. It does not seek to change councils' power to charge, or not, for these services.
The guidance aims to ensure in particular that service users on low incomes are protected from charging and that any charges levied on disability benefits are subject to an assessment of disability costs, to ensure their reasonableness. Councils are required to ensure that charges do not put any users' incomes below basic income support levels or the guarantee credit of pension credit, plus a buffer of 25 per cent. This can lead to real improvements in the position of many users, who will cease to pay charges or pay a smaller charge.