Care Assessments and the Role of Social Services

Information on Care Assessments and the Role of Social Services and Local Authority Services is detailed below.

Please note that every individual’s situation is unique.

The terms ‘Local Authority’ and ‘Social Services’ apply to England and Wales, and are referred to in the following information. However, these terms should be read as ‘Local Health and Social Care Trust’ for Northern Ireland, ‘Social Work Department’ for Scotland, and the ‘Health and Safety Executive’ in the Republic of Ireland.

Assessments Social Service Departments are part of each Local Authority.

Their responsibilities include:

  • Assessing individuals for Community Care Services. These services include home help/care, day care, respite, provision of aids and assistive devices, meals-on-wheels and care homes • Arranging any care services an individual may be eligible for
  • Providing financial support for people who have been assessed as eligible for long-term care and who meet the Local Authority’s financial criteria. A care needs assessment will be carried out in order to establish what help and support is needed

Social Service Departments are responsible for this assessment, but they may need to involve other organisations, where appropriate. There are no national rules to state how quickly a social services assessment must be carried out, although some Local Authorities will set their own standards.

Each Local Authority will have its own assessment procedures.

Social services must carry out an assessment if:

  • A person appears to them to be in need of a community care service
  • A person is disabled
  • A person is looking after someone else - relative, friend or neighbour.

These three circumstances are set out in Acts of Parliament - the Community Care Act 1990 in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Care Act 2014 in England and the Social Services and Wellbeing Act 2014 in Wales. An older person’s financial situation should have no bearing on whether Social Services carries out an assessment or not. An assessment will most commonly take place in an individual’s own home, within a hospital or in another care setting such as a care home. Where possible, individuals should take an active role in their assessment and should inform the assessor of all their needs.

An older person’s emotional and psychological needs should be taken into account as well as their physical needs. Once assessed, social services should make the older person’s health needs known to their GP and/or any other member of the primary care team involved, for example, a district nurse. If an older person’s assessed needs meet the Local Authority eligibility criteria, the Local Authority Social Services Department has a duty to meet these needs as soon as possible. 

Carers can also ask for their own care needs to be assessed under the following Acts:

  • Carers and Direct Payments Act 2002 - Northern Ireland
  • The Care Act 2014 - England
  • Social Services and Wellbeing Act 2014 - Wales
  • In Scotland the Community Care and Health Act 2002 introduced carer’s assessments and further rights were introduced by the Social Care Act 2013.


The Carers (Scotland) Bill will supersede these and is expected to come into force in April 2018. Arranging and Financing Care Services When social services provides or arranges care services the older person may have to contribute towards the cost. The assessment carried out includes a financial assessment to establish how much an individual should contribute.

If care at home is appropriate, a home care package will be arranged and a care plan drawn up.

The care plan highlights the level of care required, the services being provided, any charges to be incurred by the older person and a review date. The older person receiving the care package, or their representative, should be given a copy of their care plan.

The Local Authority may provide the services itself or contract a private or voluntary organisation to provide care on its behalf. If a care home environment is required, Social Services will inform the individual how much it will pay and then provide information of care homes in the area within that price range. Even if the Local Authority funds a care home placement, the older person is still entitled to a choice of homes.

The Local Authority is also able to make direct payments to individuals, so they can buy their own care services, once they have been assessed as needing help. If an older person refuses the community care services being offered, the Local Authority generally has no power to insist the care be received.

However, if the older person is assessed as not having mental capacity to make decisions about their own care arrangements, all those involved in their care, including the doctor, social services and family, will discuss that individual’s “best interests” in accordance with the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

If social services decides an individual’s needs do not meet its criteria, it should:

  • Put its reasons in writing to the older person concerned
  • Advise that the older person can approach them again if circumstances change
  • Give details of its complaints procedure

Information and advice The Local Authority must ensure that people can make informed choices about care and support and be provided with the right advice early on to prevent support needs becoming worse. 

Information available must include:

  • How to access social care
  • What types of care and support are available
  • The range of care and support services available
  • Where to find and how to access independent financial advice
  • How to raise concerns about the safety and wellbeing of an individual who has care needs
  • Available support for carers

How to find your Local Authority and Social Services

Details of Local Authority and Social Services offices can be obtained from GPs and other health care professionals, hospitals, council offices and your local Citizens Advice Bureau. Contact details will also be in local telephone directories.

This information is a general guide only to Local Authority services in the UK. The rules may vary according to each Local Authority and individual circumstances. For those living in the ROI, the HSE will be your most comprehensive source of information.