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7 April 2021

On 31 March 2020, the UK Government introduced some temporary changes to the Care Act 2014. These changes had the potential to impact millions of people across the country who have care needs, due to disability, older age, or because of other vulnerable situations, and their carers.

On 22 March 2021, the Government announced it will remove these changes to the Care Act. This means it will no longer be possible for local authorities to change their duties under the Care Act. The law removing the Care Act easements is expected in April 2021. Until this law is made, however, the changes are still in place. Update 21 June 2021: the law removing the Care Act easements has still not been introduced.

What is the Care Act?

The Care Act 2014 is a law which sets out how adult social care should be provided in England. It lists in one place, local authorities’ (councils) duties around assessing people’s needs and their eligibility for care and support.

Why has the Care Act been changed?

In late March, the UK government presented the Coronavirus Bill to parliament, asking them to approve possible suspensions to several laws about people’s care and support during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Government said these changes may be necessary because many public services would face significant pressures due to Covid-19 and the effects the pandemic may have on staff and resources. Parliament passed this law, the Coronavirus Act on the 25 March 2020.

One part of the Coronavirus Act deals with the Care Act and allows some changes to be made. These changes allow local authorities to prioritise resources, should they be unable to meet their full duties under the Care Act. The UK government said that this might be necessary if there is an increase in demand for care and support or if there are less available staff to provide this as the Covid-19 pandemic reaches its peak. The changes are called the “Easements”.

Which changes were introduced?

On 31 March, the Care Act changes or “easements” came into force. These changes can only take place when “activated” or switched on by the Director of Adult Social Care of each local authority. Only 8 of the 343 local authorities in England have ever activated these changes and all have them have now stopped using them - the Care Act easements have not been used since 29 June 2020. This means that the Care Act duties, as they were before the Coronavirus Act changes, apply in all local authorities. On 22 March 2021, the Government announced that it plans to remove the Care Act easements from the Coronavirus Act. Parliament voted to pass this motion, and it is expected that the law to bring about this change will happen later in April when Parliament returns from Easter recess.

In the 8 areas where the easements were switched on, there was a temporary suspension of almost all duties to assess and provide care. A local authority with easements switched on does not have to comply with the following Care Act duties:

  • Duty to assess needs
  • Duty to assess the needs of a carer
  • Duty to give written records of an assessment
  • Duty to give effect to a preferred place of accommodation
  • Duty to carry out financial assessments, but it cannot charge for services unless such an assessment has been carried out.

Instead the local authority does not have to provide services to meet assessed needs unless a failure to do so would result in a breach of the human rights of the service user or their carer.

What does this mean for people who are accessing (or trying to access) care and those who carer for them?

These proposals impact the millions of people across the country who have care needs. In the local authorities where the changes have not yet been switched on, the local authority still has the duty to assess, review and meet the care needs of eligible people.

In the local authorities where the changes have been switched on, local authorities only need to meet needs when a failure to do so would amount to a breach of that person’s human rights. However, other duties from the Care Act still remain, such as the general duty to promote wellbeing and to safeguard adults

The reality of the situation is that adults with care needs may see a reduction or even complete removal of the care they have been receiving so far. Likewise, those who are trying to access support for the first time may not be able to.

Which Human Rights Are Involved?

The most important rights which are likely to be affected by these changes are the right to not be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3) and the rights to respect for physical and mental wellbeing, autonomy, relationships, community participation and home (Article 8). The right not to be discriminated against in these rights (Article 14) is also very important.

In local authorities where the changes have been activated, decision makers need to look at whether a failure to provide care would amount to a breach of the person or their carer’s human rights.

What happens now?

The above changes are still in place. However, the Government has said it will remove the changes to the Care Act soon after the Easter break (April 2021). While no local authority has activated the easements, the Care Act duties remain in place across England. Once the law is brought in to remove the easements, local authorities will no longer have the option to change their Care Act duties.

Where can I find more information?

PLEASE NOTE: BIHR Explainers are provided for information purposes. These resources do not constitute legal advice. The law may have changed from the date of writing.

You can download PDFs of our previous versions of this Adult Social Care in England Explainer series here:

  1. First version
  2. 7 April 2021