Care changes may mean thousands lose out, say charities
Thousands of adults in England could lose access to home care under draft government guidelines, campaigners are warning.
The regulations, which are subject to consultation, set out the care needs someone must have to qualify for council-funded care.
Charities, including Age UK, say the criteria will lead to many people being shut out of the care system.
But Care Minister Norman Lamb says the new system will be fairer.
The changes, which will be introduced in April 2015, will see all local authorities in England use the same minimum guidelines for determining whether they should provide care.
Councils currently fund care at one of four levels - low, moderate, substantial or critical.
The proposed criteria are similar to the "substantial" category that most councils currently use.
A table published by the Department of Health last year found 130 of the 152 councils who provide care, did so at the substantial level.
Only three councils paid at the higher critical level, and ministers expect about 4,000 extra people living in those areas to become eligible for help, as the rules would be eased.
But in 19 council areas, which currently pay for moderate or low needs, there are fears the amount of care provided will be reduced, because the criteria will become stricter.
'Not good enough'
The Care and Support Alliance said it was concerned the proposals "hardwire in the status quo of highly rationed care rather than create a preventative system that lives up to their big ambitions and keeps people from being isolated and ending up in A&E".
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, welcomed a "standardised" system, but said the new regulations were "restrictive" and "not good enough".
Ms Abrahams said: "The regulations are written in such a way that we worry that people with dementia who need help to continue to live at home with dignity could be screened out, together with those who struggle with dressing, or washing, or going to the toilet or preparing food.
"From now on the inability to do just one of these fundamental things will not be enough to qualify you for support and Age UK's concern is that without it, some older people's needs will escalate, undermining their capacity to continue to live at home."
Richard Hawkes, chairman of the Care and Support Alliance - a coalition of 75 organisations representing older and disabled people and their carers, said: "The government has passed up the chance to drive through a genuinely preventative system.
"It has instead hardwired the year-on-year rationing that's seen people squeezed out of the system.
"Without that help, people's lives fall apart. This will also place unbearable pressure on family carers."
Rachael Byrne, executive director of care and support for Home Group, one of the UK's largest providers of social care services, said: "Many people who have relied on care from their local council will find themselves squeezed out. This will place an intolerable strain on an already overstretched NHS.
Mr Lamb said: "Until now it's been hard for people who need care and their carers to know if they are eligible for care and support from their council and this has varied depending on where they live.
"Our national eligibility criteria will make the system fairer by clearly setting out what level of needs must be met by all local authorities, putting an end to this variation."
The consultation is open until 15 August and centres on the changes that will come into effect from April 2015.
Changes set to be introduced in 2016 include a cap on personal care costs of £72,000, excluding accommodation, and a new requirement on councils to provide preventative services.
A further consultation on these will take place this autumn.