Health and social care rights

Explains your rights to social care, and how this differs from healthcare. Includes information on eligibility, needs assessments, financial assessments, and how local authorities may meet your needs. Applies to England and Wales.

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Social care needs assessments

What is a social care needs assessment?

The first stage in getting any social care is for the local authority to assess your needs, called a needs assessment. This is so the local authority (local council) can gain a full picture of what kinds of care and support needs you have, so they can make informed decisions about whether you're eligible for support.

Your local authority cannot charge you for a needs assessment, whatever your financial circumstances are. 

When must the local authority assess me?

The local authority is under a legal duty to assess you if:

  • you're an adult, and
  • it appears that you may have a need for care and support.

The local authority might think that you may have a need for care and support if:

  • You tell them about it yourself. You can phone, email or write to the adult social services department of your local authority. You should be able to find out their contact details on their website.
  • Someone else tells adult social services about you, because they believe you are in need of care and support.

Although it's the social services department that is responsible for assessing needs, if any part of the local authority becomes aware that you may have needs for care and support, then the local authority is under a duty to assess you.


The council has written to Rapha about his rent arrears. His sister has written back to the council to explain that Rapha has a mental health problem which means that he's been off work for several months. She explains that he's having difficulty caring for himself and looking after his finances.

Although the housing department of the council is separate from the social services department, the fact that the housing department is made aware that Rapha may have needs for care and support will mean that the local authority is under a duty to assess him.

What if I don’t have needs for care and support now, but may in the future?

The law on social care says that local authorities should think about how they can prevent your needs for care and support from developing. So if you don’t currently have needs, but you're likely to develop them, you may wish to contact your local authority to tell them you want a needs assessment.

What if my needs for care and support are low?

The local authority must assess you even if it believes you may not be eligible for care and support. They have a duty to assess you simply if it appears that you may have needs. Even if you're found not to have any, the assessment process may still help you, for example by providing useful information, or suggesting other types of community support.

How quickly will I be assessed?

There's no set timescale for the assessment process. The local authority should give you some sort of indication of how long it should take for your assessment to be completed. Normally it shouldn't take longer than four to six weeks, unless your assessment is complex.

How is the assessment carried out?

An assessment can be carried out in a number of ways:

  • Face-to face assessment. Your assessment will most likely be carried out face-to-face with a social worker. The Code of Practice to the Care Act says that, in England, all assessments of people with mental health problems should take place face-to-face.
  • Supported self-assessment. This is when you fill out a questionnaire which the local authority gives you. This should cover exactly the same information as a face-to-face assessment. The local authority should make sure that the information you fill in is an accurate reflection of your circumstances.
  • Online or phone assessment. This is when the assessment is carried out online or on the phone.
  • Joint assessments. This is when your needs assessment is carried out at the same time as the assessment of another adult, for example another member of your household, or a carer’s assessment.
  • Combined assessments. This is when a needs assessment is carried out at the same time as another assessment, for example an assessment for continuing healthcare (CHC).

Who will assess me?

You'll be assessed by someone who has the right skills, training and experience. This may be:

  • a social worker
  • an occupational therapist
  • someone else who is suitably qualified.

What if my needs change from day to day or month to month?

Your condition may mean that you have good times when you don't need much care and support, and bad times when your needs are greater. Your assessment should take account of the fact that your needs may fluctuate (change in a way you can't predict).

This means that the local authority might:

  • assess you over a longer period, so that they can get an accurate overall picture of what your needs are and how they impact your life
  • carry out the assessment over a shorter period, but only if they make sure that they have an accurate picture of what your overall needs are.

What will I be asked about at a needs assessment?

The assessment will focus on your wellbeing.

Wellbeing means:

  • your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing
  • being protected from abuse and neglect
  • your participation in work, education, training or recreation
  • your social and economic wellbeing
  • your domestic, family and personal relationships
  • how suitable your living accommodation is
  • your contribution to society.

If you're in England

The assessment must also cover:

  • the outcomes you want to achieve in your life, and
  • whether providing care or support would help you achieve those outcomes.

If you're in Wales

The assessment must also cover:

  • your personal circumstances
  • the outcomes you want to achieve                     
  • the barriers to achieving those outcomes
  • the risks if these outcomes are not achieved
  • your strengths and capabilities.

How will I be involved in my assessment?

It's very important that the local authority involves you as much as possible in your assessment. This means they should consider things like:

  • Giving you an interpreter if you have difficulty communicating.
  • Involving your family and/or carer, if this would help you.
  • Providing you with an advocate, if you have difficulty understanding, retaining (remembering) or considering (thinking about) information, or if you have problems communicating your wishes and beliefs. (See our page on advocacy in social care for more information about this.)
  • Helping you understand. They should explain to you the purpose of the assessment and how it's carried out. They should also provide you with information if you ask for it and answer any questions you may have.

How can I prepare for my assessment?

Before your assessment, you might like to make a note of some of the things you want from the assessment and care and support planning process. You can then take this note to your assessment to help you discuss your needs.

Here are some things you might want to think about before your assessment:

  • What your needs are and how you think social care and support might help you. For example, you may have needs relating to your self-care and you might want support keeping your flat clean and tidy and preparing food. You could make a note of the tasks you need help with.
  • Outcomes that you want to achieve. What are your wishes, hopes and plans for life? For example, you might want to keep in touch with family or friends, live in your own flat, get a job or manage your money.
  • What barriers there are to achieving your outcomes and plans for life.
  • Whether you want someone to support you in the assessment process, such as a family member, a friend or an independent advocate.
  • Whether your needs are fluctuating. For example, you may be feeling well and not in need of care and support as you prepare for your assessment. But it might be useful to think about how your condition has affected you in the past. This will help you plan for how it might affect you in the future.

Can I refuse to be assessed?

Yes – if you refuse a needs assessment then the local authority is not under a duty to assess you. But there are some exceptions.

You can't refuse a needs assessment if:

  • you lack the capacity to refuse, and the local authority believes that it's in your best interests to have an assessment
  • the local authority believes you've experienced abuse or neglect, or are at risk of it (see our page on safeguarding in social care).

If you've refused an assessment, but you change your mind and want the local authority to assess you, then they must do so. Similarly, if you've refused an assessment, but the local authority considers that there has been a change of circumstances, then they must carry out an assessment if that is what you want.


This information was published in February 2018. We will revise it in 2020.

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