Concern over lack of transparency in personal budget setting

Sector leaders have raised concerns over the transparency of personal budgets after research found councils could not provide information on how their resource allocation systems converted assessments into budgets.

Sector leaders have raised concerns over the transparency of personal budgets after research found councils could not provide information on how their resource allocation systems converted assessments into budgets.

None of eight councils surveyed provided a full explanation of how assessed needs were converted into personal budgets, said Exeter University community care law researcher Lucy Series, who conducted the research.

This is despite all but one being leading authorities in the development of personalisation as members of In Control’s Total Transformation group, set up in 2007 to support councils wanting to transform their systems in line with the principles of self-directed support.

Series, a former support worker and care co-ordinator, said the responses to her Freedom of Information request appeared to be “entirely out of keeping with the spirit of personalisation”, which emphasised empowerment and transparency.

Her concerns were echoed by sector leaders, including In Control’s lead on research and evaluation, John Waters.

“Whatever the finer detail, a RAS must contain at its centre a simple set of transparent rules to demonstrate how the individual gets a fair budget, according to their needs and social circumstances,” he said.

In Control, which has designed its own RAS, has previously said that this should mean that it is “easy for those administering the system and those using a personal budget to understand the decision reached using the RAS”.

“Behind the issues of bureaucracy associated with some RAS, lie the failure of some councils to start trusting people to make their own decisions,” said Alex Fox, chief executive of Naaps UK, the umbrella group for small social care providers.

Concerns were also raised by Think Local Act Personal, the partnership set up this year to support the further development of personalisation in England.

“The process of giving people a personal budget has – in some localities become too complicated,” said a spokesperson.

Series said that Hampshire and West Sussex councils were the “most transparent” respondents, giving information on the number of points that would be scored by a service user by different answers to an assessment questionnaire; however she said it was unclear how this translated into a cash value.

One of the other councils named, Hartlepool, said its RAS was based on In Control’s model, with service users given points on the basis of needs identified in a self-directed assessment questionnaire. Series said this lacked detail on how answers to the questionnaire translated into points and then into cash.

However, in a response to Community Care, the council’s social care transformation manager, Sarah Ward, said: “From our perspective this [questionnaire] is a starting point and we do not focus on the points in this authority but the impact someone’s disability has on their life and the outcomes they wish to achieve through the assessment and support planning process.”

Among other respondents, Cornwall Council used a public interest exemption under the Freedom of Information Act in not disclosing how assessments were converted into entitlements, saying: “If this was made available on the website then anyone completing the assessment may be able to answer the questions on the assessment in such a way as to produce a higher personal budget than they need. This could have serious implications on adult social care’s management of their budget.”

A spokesperson for Cornwall told Community Care: “The RAS is simply used as a tool to help us determine the starting point for agreeing a personal budget, and follows a thorough needs assessment. The support planning that then takes place is individual to the person and agreement is reached with them about the support required to meet their eligible, assessed social care needs. At this point, if an indicative personal budget needs to be increased to meet those needs, we have a clear scheme of delegation to allow staff to make any necessary variations.”

Jeremy Cooper, director of public service consultancy iMPOWER, said transparency was important for the RAS but, in general, this was improving across the country.

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