In R (Nassery) v Brent London Borough Council (2011), the Court of Appeal considered the threshold for receipt of care and accommodation under section 21 of the National Assistance Act 1948. To be eligible an individual must be in need of “care and attention”. The interpretation of this term was considered by the House of Lords in R (M) v Slough Borough Council and held to mean that a person must need “looking after”.

Mr Nassery had been diagnosed as suffering from an emotionally unstable personality disorder and had a history of self harm. However, as Mr Nassery’s condition was reasonably stable and he was capable of seeking professional help if his mental state deteriorated, and as he did not need assistance with daily living tasks, the council concluded that he was not eligible for support under section 21. Mr Nassery alleged that the assessment was flawed for failing to consider his need to discuss aspects of daily life with a social worker and for failing to consider his sporadic episodes of mental illness.

The court upheld the council’s approach. The court approved of the council’s assessment considering Mr Nassery’s needs “at the time” of the assessment. Although there is scope for local authorities to provide services under section 21 where the need is imminent here, at the time of the assessment, the council concluded Mr Nassery was not in need. The fact that an episode of mental illness may have arisen at some future point, so as to place Mr Nassery in need of care and attention, was not sufficient to trigger the duty under section 21 at the time of assessment.

This case illustrates the difficulty of applying section 21 of the National Assistance Act 1948, despite the guidance provided by the House of Lords in R (M) v Slough Borough Council. Each case will depend on its particular facts but this judgment provides some useful guidance, clarifying that the duty generally only arises when there is a need for care and attention.