Needs assessments

4 mins read

This advice applies across the UK.

A needs assessment is the process social services use to decide if extra help is required to meet your child and your family’s needs. On this page we explain how to ask for an assessment, what to expect during the assessment, and what’ll happen next.

In this article

Asking for a needs assessment

If you think you or your child needs social care services, you should contact your local authority (in England, Scotland and Wales) or health and social care trust (in Northern Ireland).

Although you can ask for an assessment verbally, it is best to ask for an assessment in writing. You can do this yourself, or a professional who is helping you can do it for you.

Who do I ask?

Local authority/trust social services departments have teams for children with disabilities who deal with requests and carry out the assessments.

Find your local authority in England, Scotland and Wales at Find contact details for your local Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland at

Our helpline team has produced a template letter for you to use to request a needs assessment:

What if an assessment has been carried out in the past?

When services are already being provided, the assessment should be reviewed regularly. But if your circumstances have changed, you can ask for a re-assessment or review in the same way you ask for an assessment.

Preparing for an assessment

It can be useful to make a list of questions before you meet, and you are entitled to have a friend or advocate there with you.

Getting information about the assessment

The local authority/trust should provide information about the process and timescales.

You should also be told how the assessment will be carried out and given information about what services are available – not just those that are provided by social services departments (for example, a local play scheme).

What to expect from the assessment

During the assessment, a specialist, such as a social worker or occupational therapish, will usually come to your home to talk to you. They should ask you for information about your child, for example sleeping patterns, eating habits and how your child communicates, and whether you have any other children to look after.

The assessment should always be based on your needs and those of your child, rather than what services are already available.

For information about the process and timescales, or to request an assessment, contact your local authority. You can also ask your GP, health visitor, community nurse, paediatrician or a voluntary organisation to contact social services on your behalf.

Don’t be worried about asking for clear information about the focus of the assessment. The person carrying out the assessment should work in an open way. This means listening to your views as well as sharing any relevant information with you. It is important to have a conversation about how to meet your child’s needs.

After the assessment

Local authorities/trusts use eligibility criteria to decide whether to provide social care services. For example, in Scotland, a referral is made to an allocation panel, who use a scoring system to ensure that those with the greatest needs are prioritised for services.

If the local authority/trust agrees that they should provide services, they should draw up a plan that sets out who is going to do what, where and when to help your child.

A needs assessment might lead to other assessments taking place. For example an occupational therapist might assess whether your child needs aids and equipment for the home.

In England, if a child has an Education, Health and Care plan then the type of support, who will provide it, including use of direct payments, should be included.

The local authority/trust may decide there is no need for services, which could result in your case being closed with no further action taken. If you disagree with this decision, you can challenge it using the local authority/trust’s complaints procedure.

Refused an assessment?

If you’ve been refused a needs assessment – or you have any other complaint about a service – visit our page on the complaints process.

On that page, you can find a template letter for parents who have been told that their council will not assess their disabled child in relation to a specialist service. This is for the system in England only.