England payment support schemes overstretched

A comprehensive analysis of direct payment support services in the UK has unearthed waiting lists for users in England, low take-up and a lack of funding for ongoing support.

Though based on figures for 2004-5, the report by the Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU) at the London School of Economics provides one of the most detailed pictures to date of the challenges facing direct payment support schemes, most of which are under contract from councils.

It found that on average, people waited for 4.9 weeks before receiving any help in England, whereas in Wales and Scotland there were no waiting lists.

It also found that less than half the then 27,700 people receiving direct payments were receiving support services and that staff members’ caseloads would have to increase by 60% to extend support to everyone. Since then, direct payment numbers have climbed to 54,000 in England as of March 2007.

The report found councils tended to fund organistions to provide initial set-up support for direct payment recipients, meeting basic statutory requirements, rather than fund ongoing services. It found at least one-third of support schemes did not provide accountancy services “frequently described as crucial by some direct payment users”, such as payroll, tax and national insurance.

It said this seemed short-sighted given evidence illustrating the importance of ongoing support in ensuring the success of direct payments.

Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, which represents several user-led support providers, said: “You can’t assume that people have knowledge of being an employer, they need assistance.”

One of the report’s authors, Vanessa Davey, said she expected that the proportion of direct payment recipients receiving support had increased since 2005, as a result of improved awareness about direct payments in general and support services in particular, among both users and care managers.

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