Direct to the client

Alison Miller reports on a Cumbria-based
direct payments scheme that won the older people/intermediate care
category in Community Care‘s awards 2001

The advent of direct payments promised greater
independence for some disabled adults, but in many areas take-up
has been slow. This was certainly the case in Cumbria, where no
adults were using it.

Cumbria Direct Payments Advice and Information
Service was set up in September 2000 and is a joint venture between
the voluntary sector and social services – funding comes from
social services and the local health action zone. The service,
which won the older people/intermediate care category in this
year’s Community Care awards, set out to raise awareness
and improve information about direct payments for older people.
Crucially the service was developed with the involvement of people
who would be using direct payments.

Three direct payment advisers (soon to be
four) are situated throughout the county so that service users are
not too far away from their nearest adviser. The service also has
two direct payment co-ordinators and two administrative workers –
all these posts are part time.

Fred Wilenius is the service manager. He says:
“We realised it was going to be hard to get people to take on
direct payments if we didn’t have some sort of support systems in
place. People were asking ‘Will there be support available to help

The main barriers preventing people from using
direct payments were that many older adults were worried about the
responsibility of becoming an employer, and that social services
would abandon them once they took on a direct payment. There was
also a dearth of information about direct payments for older
adults, and many professionals in the statutory and voluntary
sector were not telling their clients about direct payments because
they believed they were very unlikely to be interested.

Wilenius says: “We set up consultation groups
– two co-ordinators were set up to look at direct consultation with
users, which seemed to be the best way to find out how to go about
promoting direct payments and find out what we needed to put in
place for it to work.”

Feedback from social services and the
voluntary sector suggested they were wasting their time and that
older adults would not be interested. “But when we talked to older
adults they told us they were interested, but it was the support
that was the issue for them,” Wilenius says.

The service started touring the county and
holding consultative meetings, with the help of Age Concern and
local carers organisations, to gauge what was needed to help people
to remain independent by using direct payments. From there a
steering group was formed to develop the service, and service
users’ views were paramount in building a service based around
their needs.

Sixteen months on and the service has helped
many older adults take on direct payments successfully. From
nothing, 60 people now use the scheme. The service also offers home
visiting, develops peer support networks and works with partners to
establish support networks and referral systems.

Wilenius is very pleased about the partnership
work with Age Concern in Cumbria. “Working together allows our two
agencies to provide a broader range of support than either of us
can provide alone, and helps in carrying out joint home visits.
Together staff can take a more holistic view and look at the whole
range of needs.”

The partnership has been piloted in one area
of Cumbria and is now being taken out to other Age Concerns in the

Wilenius says the award has come at a good
time for the service. “One thing it will do is go a long way
towards helping us get the funding to keep the service going and
that is incredibly important to us. In that sense it couldn’t have
come at a better time.”

Their prize money will be spent on developing
a subtitled video for older adults explaining how direct payments
can help them, together with a starter pack.  

– The older people/intermediate care category
was sponsored by Bupa.

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