Better Transparency from Local Authorities on their approach to financial support for Adult Social Care

We know from reports in the press and from our clients that there have been significant disparities between different Local Authorities’ reactions to the covid-19 pandemic in the care sector. In particular, we have seen significant variation how they have allocated and distributed funding support to Adult Social Care providers following central government’s allocation of £3.2bn over March and April 2020 to support the sector (and the further £600m allocated for PPE and infection control in May 2020).

After some concerning reports that providers were struggling to access support, or sufficient levels of support, ADASS conducted a survey of how Local Authorities were allocating funds and supporting ASC service in their area. The results of that survey, to which 89% of Local Authorities responsible for Adult Social Care responded, were published in summary last week. The results are not surprising and confirm our understanding that there is a significant variation, particularly in the level of “temporary uplift” funding being provided. ADASS also published a summary of the non-financial support being offered. However, we are still hearing from numerous providers who are finding that the support offered is simply not enough and in many cases is too difficult and bureaucratic a process to enable them to access it.

Government Guidance entitled “Coronavirus (COVID-19): care home support package”, which was most recently updated on 22 May 2020, sets out a summary of the current position on care home support, and on the funding which central government has allocated for this purpose. This guidance confirms that Local Authorities are required by this Friday 29 May 2020, to submit a “planning return” to central government. As part of this planning return, Local Authorities are expected to provide an update on current and expected future activity in respect of support provided to the social care sector, to put in place a care home support plan – or review any existing ones and to confirm that there will be daily reviews of the situation. The guidance states that these planning returns should be made public in the interests of transparency.

The guidance also makes it clear that Local Authorities should publish on their websites the support they are offering to providers of residential, domiciliary and other care services by the same deadline. The guidance includes a “suggested” format for this information to be provided, which suggests a breakdown of the “support” provided to Residential Care, Domiciliary Care, and Other Services, to include the total amount spent on all three. The guidance suggests that the information should be provided separately for both those services with which the Local Authority has a contract, and those that it does not.

Whether local authorities will actually provide the level of detail suggested in the guidance, or publish it in a format which enables true transparency as to how funds have been allocated in ASC remains to be seen. However, if Local Authorities do publish the information in the “suggested” detail, it will be interesting to see how much of the £3.8bn has actually been allocated and paid out across all Local Authorities. Planning returns may also help us to understand the reasons why there have been such disparities in how different Local Authorities have approached the issue to date.

Of course, the central government funds were not wholly ring-fenced for care home providers. There will be many others within the social care sector calling on Local Authorities for a slice of the pot to assist with rising costs and unforeseen pressures which have arisen as a result of Covid-19. However, if the sums paid to Adult Social Care providers are significantly lower than the amounts allocated to a particular Local Authority, it could indicate that some Local Authorities will have a surplus, meaning that there may be merit in providers who are in real need of further financial support engaging with those Local Authorities to see if there is a way to be allocated more. It may also give providers more transparency about the non-financial support they could be seeking.

Further, assuming that Local Authorities do provide a sensible level of detail in their planning returns, Adult Social Care providers might finally have some transparency on what is likely to come next from their Local Authority, even where they do not have existing contracts with them. This, if nothing else, is likely to be a welcome development for providers in these already uncertain times.