5. Needs assessment
The local authority has a duty to carry out an assessment of a person's care and support needs. This is often known as a 'needs assessment' and it is used to tell the local authority about the person's care needs. The local authority uses it to decide whether the person is eligible for support. If so, the person is considered to have eligible care needs. The Care Act (2014) introduced a new national threshold for eligibility.
The local authority will then talk further to the person (and carer) to jointly produce a care and support plan, to work out how their needs will be met. After that, they will consider whether the person is eligible for financial support to meet their needs. The local authority cannot refuse to assess a person because they appear to have enough money to pay for their own care (see 'Self-funders' below).
A personal budget is an allocation of money calculated by a local authority as being necessary to meet a person's eligible care needs. The local authority will provide a statement to make it clear to the person how much money is available from the local authority to meet their needs (sometimes called an 'upfront allocation'). This is intended to give the person greater choice and control over how that budget could be used to purchase care and support.
There are several ways that a personal budget can be paid and managed, including direct payments, where the money is managed by the person (or someone else on their behalf) and used to pay for care and support. Many people choose to have the local authority or a care agency manage their budget (sometimes called self-directed support). There will be a financial assessment and it may be necessary for the person to contribute to their personal budget.