Social workers have foisted direct payments on to adult social care users, a study in Essex has found.
The report found that nearly one in four direct payment users had not been offered the option of a council-managed personal budget by social workers and had been told direct payments was the new way to deliver adult care in the county.
However, many service users and carers felt more confident in managing direct payments as a result of the involvement of social workers, the Office for Public Management found.
The report was based on interviews with 21 service users and 25 relatives involved in helping direct payment users manage payments, and is part of a three-year study on direct payments commissioned by the council.
The study suggested that users were denied a choice because social workers were making judgements about who would benefit most from direct payments, as opposed to managed personal budgets, based on informal perceptions of need and vulnerability. Half of those who reported being denied a choice were relatives of adults with learning disabilities.
The study also found that in some cases frontline staff had tended to present support plans to families in terms of the number of hours of traditional care they could purchase, meaning they were not using direct payments in innovative ways.
Some service users and their relatives found social workers unable to explain the technicalities of how direct payments worked, which the report suggested could be down to a lack of clear guidance.
It called on the council to address the problem of social workers making implicit assumptions to avoid practitioners adopting a “gatekeeper role”.
Jenny Owen, director of adult social services at Essex Council, said she expected some teething problems with such a big change as the transition to personalisation. She said: “Early on people didn’t quite get the nuances of how you empower people and how you enable choices through personal budgets.”
Owen said there had been changes to the training programme for frontline staff and ongoing support to correct the problems. She said the number of applications coming through for direct payments indicated this was having a positive effect.