17/07/2015 13:33 BST | Updated 17/07/2016 06:12 BST

Government Delays Introducing £72,000 Cap On Social Care Costs

The Government is delaying plans to introduce a £72,000 cap on social care costs until April 2020, the Department of Health has announced.

Limits on the amount an individual paid towards their care were due to come in to force next year but ministers have pushed back the plans amid concerns from councils about how they would meet the costs.

Officials said the Government was still fully committed to introducing the cap within this Parliament but wanted to make sure it was workable from day one.

The cap was one of the key measures included in the coalition's Care Act to protect families from the staggering bills that can be run up. 

It was set at more than double the £35,000 recommended by the independent Dilnot Commission in 2011 but the Government insisted it would ''give everyone peace of mind by protecting them from catastrophic costs''.

But the Local Government Association earlier this month wrote to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, calling for the measure to be delayed.

The letter warned that the funding gap in adult social care is growing by a minimum of £700 million a year.

It added: "It would be deeply damaging to press ahead with a costly and ambitious reform programme if the very foundations of the system we are reforming cannot be sustained."

Government funding to local authorities was cut by 37% in real terms over the last parliament.

Last month, the National Audit Office warned that councils could find themselves forced to cut services due to a potential shortfall in funding for major changes to the social care system as the first phase of the Act was introduced.

In a letter to the LGA, social care minister Alistair Burt said the decision had been taken "in light of genuine concerns" raised by local councils.

He wrote: "We have taken the difficult decision to delay the introduction of the cap on care costs system and that this will now be introduced from April 2020.

"I want to assure you that this is not a decision that has been taken lightly, but one that has followed from consideration of the genuine concerns you have outlined."

"The consultation earlier this year highlighted significant concerns about this provision and the extra time will enable us to better understand the potential impact on the care market and the interaction with the cap on care costs system," he added.

"We will also now defer the introduction of the proposed appeals system for care and support to enable it to be considered as part of the wider spending review that will launch shortly."

Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the LGA's community well-being board, welcomed the delay.

She said: "The announcement to delay the second phase of the Care Act is a positive recognition from government of what the LGA has been warning - that we cannot try and reform the way people pay for adult social care when the system itself is on such an unstable foundation.

"Local government was ready and able to implement the next phase of the Care Act - we have supported the need for reform to the way people pay for their care and still believe this to be necessary.

"In an ideal world, we would have funding for both the system and the reforms, but we have to be realistic about where scarce resources are needed most. Local authorities have already implemented phase one of the Care Act and if both the reforms and the care system were fully funded, we would not need to suggest a delay.

"Any money from delaying the reforms must be put back into adult social care services and support putting it on a sustainable footing. The funding gap in adult social care is growing by a minimum of £700 million a year and, whilst this will not cover the rapidly increasing care costs councils are facing, it will be better than to attempt to push forward with changes on shaky grounds."

Caroline Abrahams, charity director for Age UK, said: "The Government is right to delay implementing the cap on care costs as the top priority must be to stop the social care system that millions of older people depend on from collapsing in its entirety.

"At the moment there are growing concerns that the social care system is in a cataclysmic state of decline and unsustainable on its current basis. From this point of view, introducing the care cap would have been a distraction.

"What matters now is that the Government grasps the scale of the galloping crisis in social care and uses the Spending Review to bring forward effective solutions, which must include significant investment to fill the funding gap that is at the heart of the system's difficulties. The clock is ticking.

"Meanwhile, there is a continuing need to protect older people from the risk of endlessly spiralling care costs: that problem which the Dilnot Commission was convened to address has not gone away. However, the version of the cap the Government wanted to bring in was set too high. If there is to be a cap on costs in future, as Age UK hopes, it must be fit for purpose and worthy of the name."

Jane Ashcroft, chief executive officer at not-for-profit care and housing provider Anchor, said: "We're very disappointed by today's announcement from the Department for Health revealing a delay of the cap on individuals' care costs. A delay of five years, until 2020, is outrageous and brings into question the future of care funding.

"Successive governments have failed to prioritise reform - despite the mounting crisis. This further delay suggests that social care reform is simply not a priority for government."

Sue Brown, head of public policy at deafblind charity Sense, said: "Addressing the underfunding of social care is a more urgent priority than a cap. The cuts to spending on social care, combined with a growing number of people needing support has had a significant impact on social care services. We have seen many disabled and older people miss out on the services they desperately need for day-to-day life due to the rising eligibility criteria."

Janet Morrison, chief executive of older people's charity Independent Age, said: ''The delay in introducing the cap appears to be a belated recognition by the Government that the social care system is under immense strain.

"It needs to be the first step in an urgent review of social care funding that allows councils to respond to the unprecedented demand they face from an ageing population. However the cap must not be quietly abandoned - it is a necessary measure to protect older people against the 'catastrophic' care costs that some will face."