Social care and coronavirus – temporary changes to the law


Emergency legislation known as the Coronavirus Act 2020 has been introduced by the government to help the country cope with the demands caused by the coronavirus outbreak. We have looked at how the legislation may affect people living with severe mental illness and their carers.  

The legislation changes the rights of people with mental illness and their carers in relation to social care.  The main changes are explained below.   

Social services will still try to meet the social care needs of people with mental illness and their carers.  But the coronavirus will affect how social services work and their staffing levels.  So, the overall level of support provided by social services will be affected.  Because of this they will try to support those most in need.  

The legislation makes changes to things other than social care. You can read about those other changes here. 

Are there changes to how social services will provide care and support? 

The law that governs social care is called the Care Act 2014. Under the Care Act, social services must carry out a social care needs assessment for anyone who thinks they have care and support needs.  This includes people who live with mental illness and their carers. 

Following the needs assessment, social services might decide you have what are known as ‘eligible needs.’ If this is the case, social services have an obligation to meet all of your social care needs.  

The new legislation says that during an emergency period social services are no longer obliged to carry out social care needs assessments. 

What does an ‘emergency period’ mean? 

The legislation talks about ‘an emergency period’. This means a time where the spread of the coronavirus is extremely high. And this would impact the workload of healthcare professionals, local authorities, courts and other professional bodies.  

So, more people will need support but there might not be enough staff to provide it. There is likely to be higher staff absence during this time. 

The Secretary of State will decide when an emergency period will happen. They will take the following things into account when deciding: 

  • the level of how much the virus is spreading, and 
  • whether this is affecting social services ability to carry out their duties. 

Does this mean social services won’t provide care and support? 

Social services will continue to provide care and support to people. But during an emergency period social services will be given powers to prioritise care to protect life and make rapid decisions.  

They will be given more flexibility to make these decisions. This means that social services will have to decide whose care needs they’ll meet, and which care needs they’ll meet. So, they may not be able to meet everyone’s needs during this time. 

Social services must meet your needs, if failure to do so means that they would be breaching your human rights.   

What are my human rights? 

The Human Rights Act 1998 sets out what your human rights are.  You can read more about what your human rights are here: 

Human rights can be complicated.  You can contact the following organisation if you want to know if being denied social care is a breach of your human rights: 

Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS) 
Telephone: 0808 800 0082 (Monday to Friday 9am to 7pm, Saturday 10am to 2pm)  
Email: via online form

How long will the changes last?

The changes will only start when the Secretary of State decides there’s an emergency period.  

The changes will end once the emergency period has ended. 

Will the change affect the care and support I’m getting now? 

Social services will try to continue to meet your care and support needs.   

But it’s during an emergency period social services will only provide care and support only to people where they can.  

People who will be at high risk without proper care and support will be given priority.  

Can I still be charged for social care if I havent had a needs assessment? 

The Care Act says when social services can charge you for providing social care. You can read more about these rules in our information on the Social care: charging for non-residential services page on our website.  

In addition to a needs assessment, you would normally have a financial assessment too. This outcome of this decides if you must pay for social care. 

Under the new legislation if social services provide you with care and support, they can still do a financial assessment. Even if they don’t do a needs assessment. They can still charge you for social care within the rules shown in the Care Act. 

But no one should be charged for social care if they can’t afford it. If you need legal advice about your social care you can contact the following organisation: 

Disability Law Service  
Telephone: 0207 791 9800 

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