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Health and social care rights

Explains your rights to health and social care for your mental health. Includes information on eligibility for social care and how local authorities may meet your needs.

What's social care?

If you need practical help and support because of your illness, disability or age, social care services can help you. This help and support could be:

  • Accommodation
  • Help at home with tasks such as shopping, cleaning and bathing
  • Day centres
  • Live-in care services
  • Transport costs
  • Counselling
  • Adaptations to your home
  • Supporting you if you're at risk of abuse or neglect (see our page on safeguarding)

Social care services are provided by your local authority, but you may have to pay for them. See our page on financial assessments for more information.

In England, the law on social care is called the Care Act 2014. In Wales it's the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 (also written as 'SSW(W)A').

Who's entitled to social care?

You're entitled to social care if:

  • You're over 18 in England, or any age in Wales
  • You ordinarily reside in the local authority's area
  • You meet the eligibility criteria

Who provides social care?

Social care and support is provided by the social services department of your local authority. You may also know this as your 'council', 'local council' or 'county council'. You can find details of your local authority on the website.

Local authorities might perform these services themselves, or they may commission private companies to provide them. Sometimes they'll make direct payments so you can buy the services yourself.

How do I access social care?

Here are the steps for accessing social care:

  1. Referral. You can refer yourself to adult social services. You should be able to find their details from your local authority website. Or you may be referred to adult social services by others. For example, your medical team when you're in hospital. You can also be referred by a family member or a friend.
  2. Assessment. If it appears that you may need care and support, your local authority has to carry out an assessment of your needs. The local authority would generally carry out your financial assessment at the same time. See our pages on needs assessments and financial assessments for more information.
  3. Eligibility. Your local authority will decide whether your needs meet the eligibility criteria. See our page on eligibility for social care for more information.
  4. Care and support planning. If the local authority has decided you have eligible needs for care and support, it will plan with you what support you can be given. See our page on care and support planning for more information.
  5. Meeting your needs. If your needs meet the eligibility criteria, your local authority must provide you with services to help you with these needs. Depending on your financial assessment, you may have to pay for some or all of the cost of these services. See our pages on meeting your needs and financial assessments for more information.

Flowchart: how do I access social care?

Where can I get information and advice about social care?

Local authorities must provide you with accessible information and advice about care and support services in their area.

Information and advice should cover:

  • How the social care system works in the local authority
  • The types of care and support in the local area
  • How to access the available care and support services
  • How to get financial advice about your options
  • How to raise concerns about someone who may need care and support

Will I have to pay for social care?

Unlike healthcare provided by the NHS, most social care isn't free at the point of delivery. You may be asked by your local authority to pay something towards it. This will depend on your financial circumstances. There are exceptions to this, such as section 117 aftercare, which is always free.

The rules about how local authorities charge for services are complicated. But the law says that you should only be asked to pay what you can afford.

I'm a carer – do I have rights to social care?

If you're a carer, the local authority has a duty to assess and meet your needs for support (if your needs meet the eligibility criteria). See our page on carers' social care rights for more information.

This information was published in February 2023. We will revise it in 2026.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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