Some local authorities are imposing charges for home care services that are so high they must be making a profit from them, according to one leading disabled figure.
Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said charges for support at home for disabled and older people were far higher than these councils needed to cover their costs.
She spoke out after new research showed hourly charges for support in 2010-11 reached as high as £21.66 an hour in one local authority, with other councils charging £19.80 and £19.70.
Only three councils were providing free care, while Barnsley charged just £5 an hour.
Bott said she believed the only rationale councils used to decide on their charges regime was “what they think they can get away with”, with most local authorities not even publishing their charging policies on their websites.
The new research – by the consumer magazine Which? – also shows that seven in ten local authorities are restricting support to those with critical or substantial needs.
Care charges are means-tested and some councils operate a weekly cap on charges, but this can vary from £60 in Barnsley to £550 in Haringey and £850 in Brighton.
The figures – obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests – also show that only four of the local authorities provide care to those with low, medium, substantial and critical needs. Three councils provide support only to those with critical needs.
Which? contacted 185 local authorities across England and Wales, and 154 replied.
Bott said disabled and older people were facing a “double whammy” of higher charges while also having their support packages cut, and that the system was “out of control”.
Another “worrying development”, she said, was that some councils were trying to impose a cap on the disability-related expenditure that can be taken into account when calculating the charges a disabled person must pay.
The Department of Health (DH) would not say whether it was concerned about the variation in charges and capping, and councils potentially making profits from charging for support.
But a DH spokeswoman said charging decisions were the responsibility of local authorities, “in line with government guidance”.
She said the government had announced £2 billion a year extra funding for social care by 2013-14, but that “even with this extra funding, every council has to make savings and, like the government, make tough decisions”.
But she said the government accepted the need for long-term reform, which was why it set up the Commission on Funding of Care and Support.
20 January 2011