What is social care?

Social care is support from your local council (or in Northern Ireland, your Trust). It includes information, special equipment, and changes to parts of your home. It can pay for someone to help with things at home. It can cover residential care, as well as support for carers.

Why social care is important

What can social care services help with? They help you to stay as active and independent as you can. Social care keeps you part of the community. It can help you hold on to your dignity and quality of life as you face the challenges of MS. Social care can also support the people close to you who look after you. It might be hard to get sometimes. But don't let that put you off asking for it. Social care can make a big difference to people's lives.

Explore MS, social care and your rights

Social care services can give you:

  • information and advice
  • equipment or changes to your home that make life easier
  • someone who helps at home. This could be with things like getting dressed or washed, cleaning, shopping or going out
  • support for carers such as giving them a break
  • regular visits to a day centre
  • a place in a residential care home

In England, Wales or Scotland, your first step is to get in touch with your local council. Try their contact centre or its social services department. Use your postcode to find your local council. In Northern Ireland contact your local Health and Social Care Trust.

When you speak to them, say you’d like a needs assessment for social care. That means you want them to check if you qualify to get support, and, if you do, what kind of help you need.

The law says your council or Trust must do this assessment for anyone who seems to need support. So don’t let them put you off from asking them to assess you.

Usually someone like a social worker will visit you to assess you. Or you might be asked to do the assessment online or over the phone. If MS affects your memory or thinking, then a face-to-face assessment would probably work better. If you think face-to-face would work better for you, ask for that. You can have someone at your assessment to support you.

A friend, your carer or a family member can help you apply for social care. If no one is available, someone called an advocate can help. They can help you through it, from filling in forms to just being with you at your assessment. And they can help if you’re not happy with the result of your assessment or want to complain about a service you use.

You qualify to have an advocate if no one else can help you, and you struggle to take in or weigh up information. Part of their job is to help you explain what you need and want, and how you feel or think about things.

Your council or Trust can put you in touch with an advocate, for example, through a local organisation for disabled people. The national charity Voiceability also helps people find advocates.

Family or friends who help with unpaid care can also have an assessment. This carers assessment looks at what support they need.

Read more about carers assessments and other support for carers

You can expect these types of questions. So think how you’ll answer them.

  • What can you do without any help?
  • What things do you need help with?
  • How does it affect you if you can’t do these things?
  • If someone lives with you, what support do they give you?
  • How much help do you need, how often and how would you like to get it?
  • What would you like to do but can’t because you lack help?
  • What risks are there if you can’t do things you need to? For example, if you can’t leave the house, that means you can’t shop for food, get exercise, or see friends

Your assessment will look at how you manage with everyday activities. To get support from social care services, the assessment must show it’s very hard or impossible for you to do at least two of the things on this numbered list. And that this is likely to have a significant effect on you. Think about what specific help you need with:

  1. Eating (preparing meals and getting drinks)
  2. Keeping clean (washing yourself and your clothes)
  3. Using the toilet
  4. Getting dressed (including dressing to stay warm when it’s cold)
  5. Moving safely around your home (and getting in and out of it safely)
  6. Keeping your home clean and safe
  7. Staying in touch with family and friends. Meeting new people
  8. Keeping busy. This could be starting (and keeping) a job, or travelling to work or to education or training
  9. Using services like public transport or leisure facilities
  10. Looking after others, including a child

Download our social care assessment checklist to help you prepare for yours (PDF, 25.1 KB). It gets you to think about the help you need.

Social care assessments are carried out by a social worker, occupational therapist, nurse or another type of social care or health worker.

Whoever it is, don’t assume they know a lot about MS. They may have assessed other people with MS. but what those people needed could be very different to what you need. Be clear about how your MS affects you.

Before your assessment keep notes so you don’t forget what you want them to know. Write down what you can and can't do. You might find it useful to fill in the table on the right of this page and show it to the person who assesses you. It’ll help you think about the day to day things you might need help with.

Ask yourself: what do I need to be more active and feel safer? Remember: the assessment shouldn’t only be about the essentials like getting up, eating and going to bed. You can ask for help to:


  • visit friends and family
  • have a social life
  • look after your children
  • go to the pub
  • attend a course
  • do anything you'd like to do if only you had the right help

Make it clear what support you get from family or your carer. This needs recording in your assessment. That’s so you can agree plans in case they can’t provide that care, for example, if they get ill.

Further tips

It might not be easy to talk about things you struggle with. It can be hard to tell a stranger how MS affects you, or admit you need help. But the person assessing you needs to hear this. So:

  • Don’t hide a problem, or pretend you can cope
  • Make it clear there are some things you can do but only with difficulty
  • Don’t underestimate how long things take. Time it. If a bath takes an hour, write down one hour
  • Let them know how doing something leaves you feeling for the rest of the day
  • Tell them if something takes longer on bad days
  • Get together evidence you need about your medical needs or medication (and why you take it). If you want someone like a doctor to back you up, make sure you have that in writing before the assessment
  • If you want a friend or family member with you, give them enough warning of when your assessment is happening


Give some thought to how your needs might change if your MS gets worse.

The law says your council or Trust must stop - or delay - your need for support getting any bigger. So, for example, if they fit something simple like a rail to hold on to, that could prevent a serious fall and the need for support at home.

You should get a copy of your assessment. If it decides you need help, within a few weeks you should get a care and support plan. Your council or Trust should look at that plan again with you within three months, then once a year after that.

If the decision was that you don’t need help, they should tell you this in a letter and explain why not. They should tell you about other places that might help instead. You can appeal if you don’t agree with the decision.

If your assessment shows you need help, you then agree with your council or Trust what goes in your care and support plan (also called a ‘support plan’ or ‘care plan’). This puts in writing:

  • what your assessment decided your needs are
  • what support will meet these needs
  • your personal budget (how much money there is to spend on meeting your needs)
  • needs that they won’t meet
  • who will manage your personal budget

A social worker or advocate can help with your plan, and so can friends and family. You should get a copy of it. Your plan should cover how your needs might change over time, and what should happen during an emergency.

If your assessment said you must pay for support, your plan should give advice on where to find it and what it will cost.

The charity In-Control has a factsheet that helps you make a support plan.

If you don’t agree with the result of your social care assessment, you can appeal. Perhaps you feel they’re not offering you enough support, or maybe it said you don’t qualify for help at all. 

Read more about making an appeal about a social care assessment

If your needs change, or things become more difficult, let your council or Trust know. Then they can look at your care plan again.