Enquiries about adult care are being left untracked, leaving local councils at risk of sudden surges in demand for care and pressures on their already strained budgets, later life finance specialist Key has said.

Freedom of Information data revealed that the number of local authorities that record enquiries from members of the public looking for adult care has dropped 18% from the previous year, with councils in the East Midlands, East of England, and the South East failing to keep data.

“Today’s report highlights the extreme pressure that local councils are under and the hard choices that they need to make to balance the books. That said, it is extremely concerning that they are not recording the number of people who contact them with regards to adult social care as this makes resource planning far harder at a time when it is vitally important,” Will Hale, chief executive officer at Key, said.

Just 6% of the councils questioned made no changes to adult care provision during the pandemic with 71% increasing their funding for care homes and 71% increasing the number of regular check-ins for shielding adults.

Read more: Over-55s want rethink of social care for older population.

Meanwhile, the number of people receiving financial support for care rose 15% to 598,494 in the most recent figures, which were recorded as the UK entered the COVID-19 crisis – reflecting the impact of an ageing population on council finances.

“With changes to how the country approaches care due to come into force in October 2023, the next 18 months will be critical as councils, consumers, and the organisations that support them work to prepare. As this progresses, it is worth bearing in mind that 64% of people are keen to receive care in their own homes and there are already a variety of funding options including equity release which support this desire,” Hale said.

“Local authorities across the UK have faced increasing demand for later life care services in recent years, something that the pandemic has compounded, leaving resources stretched and substantial backlogs of requests for support. With the government’s planned introduction of the care cap in England due October 2023, Key’s annual report highlights the reality that, for many local authorities, meeting the challenge of delivering against the government’s proposals for care is only going to bring about more pressure on their resources,” Jacqueline Berry, director at My Care Consultant, said.

“Given this backdrop and the reality that many individuals will still have to pay significant amounts towards their care, understanding the limitations of the government’s proposals and preparing for future care costs as early on as possible has arguably never been more important.”