Money Advice Service

A care needs assessment - or social care assessment - from your local council can be the first step towards getting the help and support you need with your everyday life.

The aim of a care needs assessment is to work out how much help you need - to enable you to live as independently as possible. Read our guide to find out how it works.

What is a care needs assessment or social care assessment?

If you need help with everyday tasks your local authority has a legal duty to carry out an assessment to find out what help you need.

In Northern Ireland, the Health and Social Care Trust carries out the assessment.

Many people are put off by the idea of an assessment, but it’s not something you should worry about. A social care assessment is not a test you can pass or fail.

It’s simply a straightforward way of working out your individual care and support needs so that your local authority or trust can decide the best way to help you.

The 2014 Care Act sets out the process the assessment must follow and the minimum threshold of need that the local authority should support.

  • It allows you to take the lead in explaining what care and support you need to make life easier for you.
  • The Care Act states that your wellbeing and your wishes must be considered in the assessment process.

For example, you might want to stay in your home, and this must be taken into consideration.

Or, if in the past your care needs have prevented you from joining in activities outside the home, but this is something you want to do, this must be part of the assessment and care plan process.

Am I eligible for a care needs assessment?

Top tip

Some people who are ill or disabled find it useful to make a list of things they find difficult, especially on ‘bad’ days, so they can discuss them during the assessment.

You’re entitled to have a care needs assessment no matter how much income or savings you have, and it doesn’t matter how complex or simple your needs are.

If you care for someone, you’re also entitled to a carer’s assessment.

Carers’ assessments and support services

How do I get a care needs assessment?

Contact the adult social services department of your local council and ask for one. Explain you need some help at home and ask for a care needs assessment (also known as a social care assessment).

Urgent assessments

In some cases, a local authority can begin providing services before a care needs assessment has been carried out, if they believe you need support urgently.

A full assessment will take place as soon as possible to make sure the right support is in place.

What happens at the care needs assessment?

A care specialist will carry out the assessment on behalf of the local authority or NHS.

This could be an occupational therapist, a nurse or a social worker, or a combination of these - so you don’t have to go through multiple assessments from different agencies.

Together you will explore how difficult you find it to carry out activities in your everyday life, such as washing and dressing, managing your toilet needs or living safely in your home. These are known as ‘care outcomes’.

If someone already helps you with these activities, this still counts as a need you have, so you should make sure that the assessor knows you find it hard to carry out these tasks either with or without help.

They need to know how many care outcomes you are unable to achieve to work out whether you are eligible for support. The Care Act 2014 imposed a general duty on local authorities to fully consider a person’s wellbeing when assessing and providing care and support services.

It’s a good idea to take a friend or family member with you to the assessment so that they can help you explain how your condition affects you.

If there isn’t anyone who could go with you and you would find it very difficult to understand the assessment or to explain your needs, the council must arrange an independent advocate to help you at the assessment.

What happens after the care needs assessment?

After your care needs assessment, your local authority or trust will decide what care services it can provide or arrange for you, or that you can organise yourself through a direct payment from the local authority.

This decision is made by comparing your care needs with a set of nationally agreed criteria which all local authorities must use.

The assessor must also take into account how these needs affect your general wellbeing when they decide if you need support.

You will qualify for care and support if:

  • You have a mental or physical need or you are suffering from an illness.
  • You are unable to achieve two or more of the care outcomes – these are things like whether you can prepare and consume food and drink, or get yourself washed and dressed.
  • There is a significant impact on your wellbeing because you’re not getting the help you need.

You can find out about the eligibility criteria on your local authority’s website.

Agreeing a local authority care package

Did you know?

Your local authority is only responsible for your personal care needs. Health care needs are the responsibility of the NHS.

Detailed information about the care services you need will be included in your care plan, which you’ll get a written copy of.

Care services can include:

  • Residential care or nursing homes.
  • Disability equipment and adaptations to your home - such as grab rails, stairlifts or ramps.
  • Home care help with things like cleaning, meals and shopping.
  • Day care for your child if either you or they have a disability.
  • Day centres to give you or the person who cares for you a break.
  • A ‘careline’ phone system so that you can call for help in an emergency.

Reviewing your care and support plan

Once your care and support plan has been agreed you have a right to ask for a review at any time if you think your care needs or your financial situation has changed.

Even if nothing has changed, the local authority must review it regularly, usually once a year.

What if you move outside your local area?

If you move outside your local area, both local authorities must work together to make sure that you will still receive the support you need in your new home.

It is up to you to let the new local authority know that you’re moving into their area so they can get a copy of your needs assessment and care and support plan.

If you have a carer the local authority in the new area must support them too if they are coming with you.

If you don’t qualify for local authority support with care

If your local authority thinks that you don’t qualify for support because your care needs aren’t great enough, they must still give you information and advice about where else you can get help - for example, through charities or other local organisations.

This information must be tailored to your needs.

If you don’t agree with the outcome of the care needs assessment, your first step is to ask your local authority for a full written explanation of their assessment and how they came to their decision.

If you’re still unhappy after reading their explanation, contact your local authority and explain why you think their decision is unfair.

Every social services department has a complaints procedure, and must tell you how to use it.

Read our guide on How to challenge your local authority over your care

Paying for care - the financial assessment or means test

Once your local authority or trust has worked out what care services you need, they’ll carry out a financial assessment. This is called a ‘means test’.

This will work out if you need to contribute towards the cost of your care, and whether the local authority will pay for all or some of your care costs.

Means test for care costs - how they work

Your local authority will only pay for community care services and can’t provide nursing care.

However, some disabilities, injuries, long-term conditions or complex medical problems can mean you are eligible for NHS Continuing Care funding for your long-term care.

Are you eligible for NHS Continuing Care funding?

This article is provided by the Money Advice Service.