Charging for welfare services – recovery of charges – section 17 Health and Social Services Adjudication Act 1983
The section 17 Health and Social Services Adjudication Act 1983 power to charge for services provided under 29 National Assistance Act 1948 can be exercised retrospectively, provided that the grounds for doing so are ‘relevant and reasonable’. If the right to be charged has been waived, or if the service was provided in circumstances under which it would be unreasonable for the authority subsequently to charge for it, then a decision to exercise s17 powers would be manifestly unreasonable. The local authority must be prepared to justify the reasonableness of seeking to recover any charge. Whether it is reasonable to charge has to be considered at an appropriate time which will not necessarily be before the time the services are rendered and will most probably be later when the local authority has put itself in possession of the relevant information.
If the decision to recover charges was reasonable, then it was for the person receiving the services to show that he had insufficient means to pay, at the time when the LA was seeking to recover those charges. ‘Means’ was not restricted to cash, but encompassed assets, sources of income, liabilities and expenses. If a person had an asset which he could reasonably be expected to realise and which would (after taking into account any other relevant factor) enable him to pay, his means made it practicable for him to pay. Thus, where the person had a right to be indemnified by another against the cost of the service, he had the means to pay.