Councils ‘misusing funding panels for decisions on care packages’

A legal expert has warned that funding panels are “rife” but local authorities are failing to use them in line with Care Act guidance

Photo: tashatuvango/fotolia
Photo: tashatuvango/fotolia

Councils are misusing funding panels to make decisions about whether to authorise care packages, a legal expert has warned.

Speaking at a Legal Action Group event last week, Luke Clements, cerebra professor of law at Leeds University, claimed funding panels were now “rife” among local authorities but are not being used in line with the Care Act guidance.

The guidance states that funding panels might be appropriate for signing off large or unique personal budget allocations and care packages, but should not be used to “amend planning decisions, micro-manage the planning process, or are in place purely for financial reasons”.

Clements said: “That’s in the statutory guidance, it’s binding, but nearly every local authority has one [a panel] and in many councils, everything has to go to that panel. It’s not [just] micro-management, it’s everything.”

‘Care Act compliance’

He pointed to a Local Government Ombudsman decision about Brighton and Hove council in August 2016 as evidence of concerns with councils’ use of panels.

A woman with disabilities complained to the LGO after the council refused to fund her care. A care manager assessed her as needing support to meet some of her eligible needs, especially around showering and washing her hair, but the panel rejected this recommendation.

The ombudsman questioned whether the panel was purely looking at compliance with the Care Act and cost effectiveness. She added that while it was possible that the woman’s care needs could be met in other ways, this should have been done through proper care planning and in consultation with the woman, not through a decision “in direct contravention of the care manager’s recommendation by a panel who was not involved in the assessment.”

Clements said: “This is the classic situation – a social worker goes out and assesses a person as having these needs, only for the panel or care manager to say no.

“The panel members are not there, they are not seeing the person, not taking in all that information, so they have no discretion to bear.”

He added: “Social workers have crazy caseloads. They are doing their best, assessing people and getting pushed back by a manager or a panel. The families come to us upset about the social worker, but when you look at the papers, it was not the social worker at all.”

How do you feel your council uses funding panels? Community Care is keen to hear from social workers about their experiences. Please contact rachel.carter@rbi.co.uk if you would like to share your story.

 

25 Responses to Councils ‘misusing funding panels for decisions on care packages’

  1. Daniel February 14, 2017 at 7:08 pm #

    Some panels are necessary to quality assure the work of the social worker/ assessor. This isn’t micro management, this is ensuring that the tax payer is only paying for what is actually needed. Sadly, their are large variations in quality when assessing, depending on experience and personality types. Some social work staff may be more generous than others, so without a panel, or something like it, there would actually be an inequitable system. Where panels are used simply to second guess the workers assessment and/ or act as a barrier to services or just delay a service being provided for the councils financial gain, i totally agree that this is unacceptable.

    • Rob February 15, 2017 at 2:12 pm #

      Quote from a telephone conversation with a S/W ……”if I don’t cut this package a little, it won’t get through Panel”. The unpalatable fact is, in these economic conditions the councils find themselves in, financial considerations come before care.

      • Daniel February 15, 2017 at 7:41 pm #

        Not where I work. People’s needs come first. This is very sad to hear.

        • Loz February 17, 2017 at 6:29 pm #

          Really Daniel? People’s needs come first? Said like a true out of touch senior manager!!!

    • Ruth February 16, 2017 at 10:58 am #

      A panels job is not to assess the quality of a social workers assessment, that’s the managers job. As a retired sw of 30 yrs , I have been to panels for at least 15 yrs , it is clear it is to slow down or stop the flow of money out of the budget. The decisions are based on how good the social worker is at getting their case across at the panel ( they rarely read assessments) and whose on the panel. It is very demoralising for sw when you know the people need help and someone says no based on budget. In the early days , managers managed local budgets, often knew the people and agreed with sw if they did a convincing assessment. Much better and fair system.

      • Rose February 18, 2017 at 9:16 pm #

        That’s true if the assessment is written to a high standard demonstrating the needs of a individual, panel have no choice but too agree. I work as a social worker I never have issues with funding, I make sure all options are included the advantages the risks and why funding is required. If social workers are not giving reasons why funding is required or including risks panel can only go by what the assessment has included key factors may be missing

    • Louise February 16, 2017 at 8:19 pm #

      Funding panels aren’t anything to do with quality assuring practitioners work, that is done by an annual audit. These funding panels are purely to save money and the practitioner is often patronised during them. Even for a half an hour increase social workers are dragged away from the community and have to put forward a case as to why this is needed.

      • Fed up February 17, 2017 at 6:38 pm #

        Well said and completely agree. It should be mandatory that a truly independent person is present during weekly panels. That would shake things up. In the northwest authority that I am employed in it would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. At what point do we as Social Workers stop being used as tools to implement the austerity agenda and stop colluding with senior managers to oppress and deny the most vulnerable members of our society the most basic of services. We have no one to challenge this culture which now seems to be mainstream and where I work if you challenge senior management then believe me you will regret it and life will be made unbearable for you if you do not toe the line. Surely this article can not be a revelation to any frontline social worker working in adult services?

      • Daniel February 17, 2017 at 7:41 pm #

        I think this seems to be common practice elsewhere, but the social workers I work with don’t have to present a case to the manager at a funding panel, they just submit an application to the board for processing. Any necessary case discussion and proportionality to care and support planning should have already happened. But again, I have to reiterate that quality assurance is necessary, as often social work staff don’t always follow process or complete the necessary paperwork, especially when they are rushing, even the really good ones.

    • Eliot February 21, 2017 at 12:23 pm #

      I agree with you regarding the variations in the quality of assessments and degrees of generosity. However these are issues that a good management team should manage through regular supervision. A panel where every single proposed package of care is scrutinised has got a purely “make savings” purpose.

  2. Jacqueline February 15, 2017 at 2:24 pm #

    Pleased to see you article regarding funding panels. I think that it is becoming increasing demoralising and soul destroying attending the amount of panels we have too during any one week to have funding agreed.

    I agree that the panel members have not been to assess or understand the full complexity of the case, on occasions it feels that no matter how good the quality of your assessment or information, you are still under scrutiny or the goal posts change and you have to complete additional work.

    It appears to purely resource lead and about funding rather than needs both are finite at the moment but practitioners are doing their best to look at the options and alternatives.

    Direct managers to quality assess documents initial prior to panel in my experience.

    • Ruth February 16, 2017 at 10:59 am #

      They usually do that and it might go through if the manager supports sw but too often the manager is not at panel.

  3. Peter Palladas February 15, 2017 at 5:47 pm #

    I have sat on a variety of placement panels in different locations over the past twenty-five years, and I’m still finding social workers writing ‘this person needs residential care’. If and when that ceases perhaps panels won’t be needed, but until it does panels will continue to perform necessary quality check and cost scrutiny functions.

    A properly constituted placement panel, comprising social work managers, commissioners, contracts, finance (providers too where appropriate to the contract circumstances) – and the assessing social worker to present his or her case – can not only ensure that the right package of care and support is agreed for each person, but it also serves to discharge the Council’s statutory duty under the Care Act to sustain and develop further a diverse and high quality local market of care and support. (That fundamental duty of market management far outweighs any guidance on how panels are to be used.) Social workers and commissioners, in particular, are far too prone to operate in discrete silos not knowing – or giving consideration to – the strategic intentions or the operational constraints of the other. The information gathered and shared at a placement panel can be the vital and sole point of contact between the two.

    The picture painted of poor social worker Oliver/Olivia Twist with empty bowl held out to nasty Mr Bumble daring to ask for ‘more’ is so far from what a good placement panel can and must be as to be risible. If that’s how it works in your locality – then challenge and change it.

    • Ruth Cartwright February 16, 2017 at 1:09 pm #

      I have always experienced Panels as resource-led (I qualified as a social worker in 1986!) Definitely the manager’s job to scrutinise applications and ensure they are complete and of a good quality with alternatives having been fully considered. As a manager presenting Social Workers’ cases, when Panel turned something down on a cost basis I would fix them with a stare and state that I would be sharing with the service user and family that these were the grounds for the decision, not any failing on the social worker’s part. It is simply wrong for silly faults to be found with the social worker’s assessment of need when the real truth is lack of resources, including money. Directors are never going to be able to make the case for more Govt funding if the unmet need is covered up by blaming the social workers and being dishonest.

    • Gerald February 16, 2017 at 3:57 pm #

      In an ideal world, great . In a politically influenced World (the real World) most panels are lackeys to the Political Masters. That is why perfectly competent Public Officials are regularly ignored. Challenge it, you say Peter, surely you are not that naïve are you? We all know of someone who has tried this.

    • Ann Bradbury February 16, 2017 at 4:37 pm #

      Hi Peter, sorry, which parallel universe are you from?

    • Ian Ross February 17, 2017 at 4:37 am #

      Peter, that is absolute rubbish and an insult to anybody that has ever suffered from the cost driven decision culture at the core of how these panels operate!

      • Chucklesister February 18, 2017 at 11:37 am #

        Hmmm..senior manager Peter by any chance?

        • sue February 24, 2017 at 11:15 am #

          Spot on Chucklesister!!

          You can always tell that by the sheer flow of waffle that comes out, they need to come out to the real world, see and deal with the people it most affects, its just names (if your lucky) or I.D numbers to a panel. I meet brilliant SW’s who will fight tooth and nail but also those hell bent on saving a penny if they can just so they can collect a few brownie points from their senior managers.
          They are the ones, in my experience have been refused entry to a persons home based on a cold heart and abrasive manner, if you don’t care then don’t take on the role, thank god they are in the minority.

  4. Billy Bob February 15, 2017 at 8:52 pm #

    I believe it should be a manager’s role to look at the quality of a social worker’s assessment and support plan. Improving quality and ensuring some staff are not being more generous than others can also be done through case audits, reflective practice and training. In my experience working in two local authorities recently panels have been used to delay funding by giving the social worker additional tasks to complete which, in my experience, has not reduced the level of funding a service user requires. This has lead to additional distress for service users already concerned their funding may be reduced or they may not get the help they need and are anxiously awaiting the outcome. Alternative care arrangements and “creative” ways of thinking in terms of enhancing a service users independence and lessening their reliance on a care package or local authority funding is near on impossible when services have been cut to the bare minimum or no longer exist. I have had cases for many months due to delayed funding, meanwhile referrals are increasing and service users can be waiting months for a social worker to be allocated, leading to more crisis situations. This is placing additional pressure on duty systems and increasing reliance on emergency beds etc.

    • Nicola February 16, 2017 at 10:14 am #

      This is a regular occurrence for our daughter.feel like we are asking the world if we ask for a little more !! ,there’s always long delays in a decision ,thus causing so much added stress often 6 months.and I know for a fact our social worker isn’t allowed in the panel meeting ,he submits the assessment.so does the panel really read the whole paperwork?? I don’t think so.

  5. Gerald February 16, 2017 at 3:48 pm #

    This system has been abused for years and is mainly been applied to reduce admissions to Care Homes which many Local Councils are responsible for. They have also altered the eligibility criteria on many occasions to make it more difficult for placements to NHS funding which then shifts the placement to the means tested Council funding.
    I really believe the whole system is now politically motived and it is NOT “meeting the needs” of the Public > In many instances cases previously funded by the NHS are now made” means tested ” and the Public have to fund themselves.

  6. Louise February 16, 2017 at 8:16 pm #

    This article is 100% accurate. As a senior social worker in an older people’s team out LA have panels 3 times per week and are for any increase or new care package. It isn’t to quality assure the practice of the social worker, it is purely to save money. Social workers are being pulled out of the community to attend panels and literally beg for people’s unmet need to be met and are often patronised by management in the process. I hope all those LA’s that are doing this take note of this article.

  7. Laura Hawcroft February 17, 2017 at 7:21 am #

    I currently have a complaint going through the LGO about my Council using a funding panel to reject our disabled son’s Social Worker assessment and recommendation for increased support. Exactly the same argument – a group if people who have never seen or met our son over -ruling the professional decision of someone who has.

  8. Kaybee February 19, 2017 at 11:44 am #

    I like the idea of an independent officer or lay person at funding/quality panels…..I suspect it might change the panel conversation and outcome? I think there is a good arguement to be had for increasing transparency to taxpayers…..

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