A reality check

    The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is committed to
    pushing forward joint teams involving pension service visiting
    staff and social services finance officers (and ultimately housing
    benefit staff too). The spin is that information about older
    people’s finances can be shared, saving unnecessary home visits;
    benefit take-up can be increased; and multi-skilled workers can do
    assessments for home care charges alongside benefit claims.

    The reality is different.

    The DWP claims that 30 local authorities have joint teams already,
    but the definition seems stretched to include councils which have
    merely agreed in principle to consider the option or which are
    working with the DWP without any merged service being

    I am also getting feedback that the service for the customer is
    definitely not what is in the PR brochure. These are just some of
    the individual reports coming back from a few of the authorities
    that have joint teams.

    • In one council, the joint team staff from the local authority
      side are unhappy with the emphasis on detecting and preventing
      fraud. Their training was unsatisfactory as it was geared towards
      the kind of procedural stuff that DWP benefit assessors need.
    • Another joint team refused to help a client who was seen as a
      borderline case for disability living allowance and they advised
      the claimant that they would not get it. The social worker
      concerned feels that this showed that DWP staff pre-judge clients
      and cherry-pick only those claims with the highest chance of
      success. In this case, the social worker went ahead with the claim,
      which was successful.
    • In another authority, clients are advised, after a joint team
      visit, that they can go to independent agencies such as Age Concern
      for help in appealing. This is good, as it recognises the need for
      independent advocacy. However, social workers have reported that
      clients are not in practice pursuing this advice because the
      clients are putting great and unreasonable faith in being given
      correct advice by the DWP staff in the joint team.

    Joint teams, under the Link-Age banner created by the DWP, are
    presented as the only way forward for benefit take-up. But joint
    working is having perhaps more success than the bureaucratic joint
    team structure to which the DWP is committed.

    In a rural authority in the Midlands, a partnership has been set up
    to fight poverty among older people. It involves the fire service,
    social services, housing, police, a home safety agency, trading
    standards, ambulance service, a home repairs service, the primary
    care trust and several voluntary sector agencies. The partnership

    • Free smoke detectors fitted by the fire service as part of a
      home fire safety check.
    • Grants for home energy conservation or heating.
    • Access to specialist falls nurses.
    • Home safety and security advice and equipment
    • Benefits advice.

    That local authority is clearly delivering a joined-up service
    to older and disabled people beyond the pension service’s Link-Age
    aspirations. It is interesting to note that the local pension
    service has declined to become a partner in this scheme, although
    it has often been invited to join.

    Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council.
    He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a
    question to be answered please write to him c/o Community

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