Friday, 25 July 2014

Council Tax reduces Disability Care Contributions

Currently a lot of people who had previously been eligible for full Council Tax Benefit are finding themselves hit by Council Tax bills. This includes many people on very low incomes unable to simply "go and get a job", such as carers and disabled people on ESA.

There is however one silver lining for disabled people who are paying social services for their care. This new policy might be cushioned slightly by a reduction in their contribution to their care costs.

Social services are supposed to deduct the amount paid in council tax from what the disabled person pays them towards their care.

Anyone who has had a financial assessment from social services and is paying toward their care should check to see whether council tax has been taken into account. (This will normally be listed under "weekly allowances".)

(Note: see below for comments re Bedroom Tax and PIP.)


The reason behind this can be found in the fine print of the "Fairer Charging Policies for Home Care and other non residential Social Services"

Paragraph 23 states that
Housing costs and Council Tax should be assessed net of any Housing Benefit or
support under the local Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
"Income should be assessed net of any Income Tax and National Insurance contributions payable and net of housing costs and Council Tax."
The thing to remember here is that "Income" for social services is not someone's actual income but the "eligible income", ie the income that is earmarked for care.

For instance to encourage disabled people to move into work, earnings and tax credits do not count as income. On the other hand benefits such as ESA do.
So rather ironically, someone on a salary of £50,000 pa would be said on paper to have an income of £0 per week, whereas someone on ESA has an income of over £100.

Social services cannot take as much money as they like, but must leave the disabled person with "Income support +25%".
They must also take into account essential disability related expenses, although in practise this varies wildly from council to council.
This is the "Fairer Charging Policy".

So essentially social services work out the disabled person's income and subtract

  • Any housing costs left over after housing benefit, 
  • Any council tax left over after council tax reduction scheme,
  • Earnings, tax credits etc
  • Benefits which aren't allowed to be used for care (eg mobility DLA)
  • Disability expenses

They then take anything left over (if possible) while still leaving the disabled person with money equivalent to "income support +25%".

Note: Care contributions can vary greatly dependent on what disability premiums people are eligible for and how generous councils are when taking into account disability related expenditure.
Many people don't have to pay anything. My own contribution has been as high as £96 per week and as low as £56 per week.
Ironically when I could still work and earned twice as much as I do now I didn't pay a penny!

Very Important Comment regarding Bedroom Tax

Given that social services must take into account housing costs there is a query as to whether this includes the bedroom tax for those affected by it.

The following (paragraph 23) would indicate that it should:
Housing costs and Council Tax should be assessed net of any Housing Benefit or
support under the local Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
It could be argued that the bedroom tax is a housing cost left over after housing benefit has been paid. If so, then the disabled person's calculated "income" is lower and their contribution should either drop by that same amount (if possible) or drop to 0.
For instance if someone was paying £30pw, they would only pay £16.
If someone was paying £9pw, they would now pay £0.

Disclaimer: While I know for certain that some social services do take council tax into account (my own do), I do not know their policy with regards to bedroom tax. However given this guidance it could well be worth a query.

Comment regarding DLA vs. PIP

If social services only provide day care then they can only count mid rate care DLA as income even if the disabled person receives the high rate of DLA.
As PIP doesn't differentiate between night and day care, the new rules state that that social services are justified in counting all of PIP as income.
This means that someone on mid rate DLA or standard PIP who is upgraded to enhanced rate PIP might not see a penny of it. It could be swallowed up in care contributions.
In practise the government is leaving this to the discretion of individual councils. In the long term this means that we can expect to see a postcode lottery as to whether individuals have the entirety of their enhanced PIP award taken as a care contribution.

An Example of a Financial Assessment

A financial assessment might look something like this
Let's consider a hypothetical disabled person receiving a care package worth £140 in direct payments.
They are in the support group of ESA but are able to do 2 hours of permitted work per week for which they receive £20 in earnings.
They also receive DLA high rate mobility and mid rate care.
They receive LHA but have to top up their rent by £8.00 per week.
Social services have recognised disability related expenses with regards to their wheelchair, other specialist equipment and an alarm system in case of falls. However they refuse to take into account dietary requirements, heating and other increased costs.

Weekly Income (including DLA both care and mobility):

  • DLA Middle Rate Care £54.45
  • DLA Higher Rate Mobility £56.75
  • ESA core component  £72.40
  • ESA support component  £35.75
  • ESA Enhanced disability premium  £15.55
  • 2 hours permitted work per week (earnings)  £20
Total = A = £254.90

Weekly Allowances: (disregarded income such as earnings and benefits not earmarked for care, money set aside for disability expenditure, council tax and housing costs, amount required by law to leave to live on)

  • DLA Higher Rate Mobility -£56.75
  • 2 hours permitted work (earnings)  -£20
  • Specialist Equipment -£6.73
  • Wheelchair maintenance -£3.85
  • Alarm button service  -£3.50
  • Council Tax  -£5.76
  • Rent Top Up -£8.00
  • Weekly Allowance under 60 (= Income support +25%) -£130.31

Total = B = £-234.90

Net Disposable Income = A-B = £20
Cost of Care Package = C =£140 (14 hours of direct payments at £10 per hour)
Care Contribution = the smaller of C or A-B, = £20.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Assisted Dying. The Slippery Slope is here already.

Lord Falconer's Bill on Assisted Dying will be debated this Friday.  This is a bill which evokes strong emotions whichever side you agree with.

For my part I do not support the bill, something I have come under a lot of attack for. Unfortunately these attacks have but strengthened my reasons,  in particular as I am condemned as having no compassion for people such as Tony Nicklinson.

I have a lot of arguments but for the purposes of this post I am going to concentrate on a single aspect: the "slippery slope". As a disabled person this is of particular concern to me.
I have been told very bluntly by strangers in the street "If I were you I'd kill myself". Acquaintances have said that they don't know how I live the way I do and others that they couldn't live if they were "like me".

So it isn't a stretch of the imagination to see that a newly disabled person could easily want to die. It takes time to adjust. But worryingly they would not receive the support they require from many people around them as even subconsciously they would be busy telling them that in their position they'd also rather die. It is a subtle form of pressure.

Of course people reading this are busy thinking "But the bill doesn't apply to disabled people".
Well no, it doesn't.
But the problem is that the "slippery slope" has already started.
Who are the people fronting the argument for assisted dying?
Who are the examples who have convinced people like Lord Carey to change their minds?
Are they terminally ill people who the bill will help?

Well... no. They are disabled people.
We have people like Tony Nicklinson. Or Terry Pratchett.
If people are campaigning and voting on the basis of these examples then in their minds they are already applying assisted dying to other people outside the law: specifically, disabled people.

I wonder what will happen if the bill becomes law but the MPs, Lords and general public then realise that it does not apply to the cases they thought it did.
What will happen when the next Tony Nicklinson comes along and cannot avail himself of the newly passed Assisted Dying Law?

Finally Dignity in Dying repeatedly says this is not about disability but just terminal illness.
So I leave you with the foreword on their website from their patron Professor Antony Grayling:
I believe that decisions about the timing and manner of death belong to the individual as a human right. This is especially relevant in cases of terminal illness, painful or undignified unrelievable illness, exhausting old age, and other circumstances where an individual might wish to make the autonomous decision to end his or her life. I further believe that it is wrong to withhold medical methods of terminating life painlessly and swiftly when an individual requests them on the basis of a rational and clear-minded sustained wish to end his or her life.
As long as disabled people are used to front the argument for Assisted Dying, as long as Dignity in Dying includes old age, chronic illness and "other circumstances" as valid reasons, I will worry about the "slippery slope" and oppose the bill.

EDIT: The bill was not passed. But what is most crucial to my points here are the subsequent remarks made by Lord Falconer. He admitted that the reason for the bill was not the relief of unbearable pain for terminally ill patients, but the indignity of having to rely on other people. In other words the difficulties of being newly disabled.
The fear of relying on other people is hugely exaggerated in non disabled people and is what leads to the comments like "if I were you I'd kill myself". Most disabled people do adapt with the appropriate support. This is what should be concentrated on, just as much and importantly as pain relief, not helping people to die instead.
Lord Falconer's comments are below:
The work that has been done in relation to this shows generally it is not the pain, it is not the fact that you can’t relieve pain – that can be dealt with – it is the sense of people losing their independence and being reliant on other people, and there’s a small number of people who whatever you do would find that an intolerable position to be in.
Dignity in Dying finally admitted on the politics show that they agreed with his remarks, the first time that they stopped hiding behind the pretence that their agenda was purely about the relief of physical end of life suffering.