Direct payment numbers in England have stalled for the second year despite evidence they deliver better outcomes than council-managed personal budgets, whose numbers have soared.
About 430,000 people were receiving personal budgets in March 2012, a rise of 38% on the March 2011 figure, found the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ annual survey on progress, published today.
This means that, one year out from the government’s April 2013 target of having all ongoing users of council-funded community support on personal budgets, 53% of this group are receiving them.
The news was hailed by Adass president Sarah Pickup, who said it meant “most councils [were] well on the way” to achieving the April 2013 target of providing all community service users with transparency over the cost of their support and choice over how it is spent.
Direct payments stable
However, Adass reported that direct payment numbers had remained stable from 2011-12 meaning that for the second year running the growth in personal budgets had come mainly in the form of funds managed on users’ behalf by councils.
This is despite last year’s national personal budgets survey of 2,000 users and carers finding that those on direct payments “reported significantly more positive outcomes than people receiving council-managed budgets”. Though the amount spent by councils on direct payments rose by 30% from 2010-11 to 2011-12, this was well below the overall increase in spending on personal budgets of 57%, found Adass.
There are concerns that in some cases managed personal budgets involve councils simply identifying the cost of a person’s support without giving them much choice over how it is spent. For instance, people on managed personal budgets can be restricted to spending their funds on a limited number of providers.
The rise in personal budget numbers was welcomed by Think Local Act Personal, the sector coalition tasked with taking forward personalisation. However, its co-chairs, Sue Bott and Bill Davidson, said: “Councils need to ensure that when people are taking the option of a managed personal budget they are exercising significant choice and control…Importantly, councils should continue to strive to improve the offer of direct payments to all, including those groups where the current take up is lower.”
There are still significant variations in personal budget take-up between areas though there was a sharp fall in the number of councils with low rates of personal budget use, found the Adass survey. Just 9 councils – 7% of the total – had a take-up rate of 0-25% – down from 35 the previous year, while the number with a take-up rate of 25% to 50% fell from 71 to 45.