User-led bodies have renewed criticisms of councils’ approach to funding direct payment support services, after research revealed wide local variations and an overall decline in investment.
The National Centre for Independent Living said a number of councils were still commissioning national organisations, not led by service users, to provide administrative and advice services to people receiving direct payments.
Support services are seen as a vital to the success of direct payments in ensuring users are not over-burdened by their responsibilities as an employer and purchaser of care.
NCIL’s executive director, Sue Bott, said: “A lot of contracts [for support services] have gone to national organisations that don’t have the [necessary] knowledge base and are not run by disabled people. We have found people don’t experience the same level of service that they would from a service-user organisation.”
Anne Pridmore, chair of the United Kingdom’s Disabled People’s Council, said: “Support organisations not run by disabled peopled don’t really know what it’s like to be a direct payments employer.”
This stated that councils should not discriminate against user-led organisations in contracting for support services and recognise their value in terms of credibility with users and improving outcomes.
But Bott said problems remained for user-led groups in gaining contracts, and that an increasing number of councils also seemed to be taking direct payment support services in-house. She added: “To be a good support service it needs to be independent.”
Department of Health-funded research, published last week, found wide variations across the UK in councils’ funding of services to help direct payment recipients with their care purchasing and employment responsibilities. Overall funding fell 11% between 2003-4 and 2004- 5.
The report, by the Personal Social Services Research Unit, also found large variations, geographically and by client group (see box), in take-up of direct payments.
Overall, as of March 2006, 42,000 people received direct payments, a fraction of the one million eligible.
John Dixon, vice-president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, acknowledged the value of user-led support services, though he said they may be less suited to some support functions, such as scoping the care market, than commercial bodies.
He said that it was worrying that funding on support fell from 2003-5, and said that councils were hampered from investing in such services by having funds tied up in traditional care management.