The National Assistance Act 1948 abolished the Elizabethan Poor Law 1601 and set out to ensure that assistance was given to people, over the age of 16 years, who were not making National Insurance contributions and were ‘without resource’.
The act established the National Assistance Board, which administered ‘National Assistance’ in the form of assistance grants or ‘assistance in kind’ in lieu of monetary assistance.
The board had the duty to provide and maintain reception centres, which were temporary board and lodging for ‘unsettled people’. A duty was placed on local authorities to provide accommodation for the elderly, frail and infirm who required support and others requiring care or attention. Those who could afford it could be charged to cover the costs of their accommodation unless they could satisfy the local authority that they had insufficient means to pay.
The act made it compulsory for residential care homes (whether run by public, private or voluntary sectors) for the disabled and elderly to be registered. The minister of health or the registration authority could authorise entry and inspection of care homes. Local authorities were given the power to make arrangements for promoting the welfare of people who were blind, deaf, or disabled by illness or injury. They were also given powers to inform people about the services available to them, support people to work, supply advice on living with disabilities and provide recreational facilities. The local authority was able to recover charges for such services.
A distinction was drawn between services provided by the local authority (where authorities could charge for services including accommodation) and those services that were provided under the National Health Service Act 1946 (which were free at the point of use).