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Guide to social care services

Introduction to social care services

Social care services help people from all walks of life, as well as their families or carers. Someone may need support because of illness, disability, old age or poverty. Local authorities are responsible for providing social care services, some of which may come from independent providers.

Health and social care assessments

If you or someone you know has difficulty coping with daily life, consider seeking support from your local authority. Local authorities have a duty to assess anyone who appears to need the community care services they provide.

The assessment is important to work out what your difficulties are and to provide the best possible service to you. You should be involved in the decision-making process and, if appropriate, a care plan may be created for you.

Check the Directgov website to find your local authority and get advice about an assessment. 

Services provided can include:

Often, it is minor assistance, such as meals on wheels and help with washing, dressing, feeding or using the toilet, that makes a big difference to people’s lives.

If you feel that your needs have changed over time, you will have to be reassessed. Contact the social care team at your council.

Financial matters

Personal budgets

If your local council decides you're eligible for social care, you may be offered a personal budget, preferably as a direct payment. This allows you to choose and pay for the service you need. Personal budgets are available in different ways, such as:

  • cash – a direct payment held by you
  • an account held and managed by the council, in line with your wishes
  • placed with a third-party provider, in line with your wishes 
  • a mixture of the above

In some cases, the local council may decide it’s in your best interests if they arrange all services directly for you.

Financial assessments

Your local council may ask you to have a financial assessment to see if you could contribute to the cost of your support. The assessment will look at your income or savings, including income from pensions, some benefits and other assets. Your contribution will be calculated according to government guidelines and can take into account certain housing costs and disability-related spending. At the end of the assessment, you will be told how much the council will contribute to the cost of your support and how much you must contribute yourself. Some people may not need to contribute anything.

The following guides contain detailed information about how services can be charged for: 

Personal health budgets

Personal health budgets are being introduced by the NHS to help people manage their care in a way that suits them. They have been piloted in a number of places across England and, from April 2014, anyone receiving NHS continuing healthcare will have a right to ask for a personal health budget.

A personal health budget is an amount of money to support your identified health and wellbeing needs, planned and agreed between you and your local NHS team. The aim is to give people with long-term conditions and disabilities greater choice and control over the healthcare and support they receive.

Personal health budgets work in a similar way to the personal budgets that many people are already using to manage and pay for their social care.  

Visit the peoplehub website, where people with a personal health budget and their families and carers can talk about their personal health budget experiences.

The Low Income Scheme

If you are on a low income, you may be eligible for help with your NHS costs through the NHS Low Income Scheme. The scheme covers:

You can apply for the scheme as long as your savings or investments don’t exceed the capital limit. In England, the limit is:

  • £23,250 for people who live permanently in a care home
  • £16,000 for everyone else

Any help you are entitled to is also available to your partner.

Registering as a disabled person

You can register as a disabled person with your local council. Even if you are not eligible for community support services, you may get concessions such as reduced fares for public transport.

Registering will also help the local council plan their services.

For more information, contact your local council.

You may also want to register with other organisations that offer financial support and advice about specific disabilities. Find out more about how to register as disabled.


If you are not happy with the decisions made by your local council or you want to complain about any of the services you receive, there are several options.

To complain about a health service you have received, follow the official NHS complaints procedure. If you have a complaint about a care home, nursing home or any other social care service, the first thing you should do is tell the home or service provider. Do this whether you pay for your care or your local council funds it.

If you're not satisfied with the response to your complaint and your care is arranged by your local council, take your complaint to the council through the formal social services complaints procedure. Information on how to complain is available from local authority offices. If you are not satisfied with the response to your complaint, you can ask the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) to investigate. Further information is available on the LGO website, or call their help and advice line on 0300 061 0614.

If you pay for your own care, you should complain directly to the care provider in the first instance. If you are not satisfied with the response, the LGO can investigate complaints made by people who fund their own care. See the LOG website for more information about complaints about adult social care.

Download the Care Quality Commission’s guide to complaints about health and social care services (PDF, 1.23Mb).


Under the Health and Social Care Act 2008, all providers of adult social care services in England, including local authorities, the NHS and independent providers, must register with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and meet safety and quality requirements. CQC is the independent regulator of health and adult social care providers in England.


The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

EmilyRosa21 said on 21 November 2013

I am worried about my older brother. I personally think he may benefit from some social service input. He is quite socially isolated living in a rural part of the country. He's really able in some ways such as driving and preparing food, however I feel some of his self care needs attention. His room is in complete disarray and I think he sometimes struggles to make adult decisions about caring for himself.

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Page last reviewed: 21/02/2012

Next review due: 21/02/2014

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