Personal budgets increasingly bureaucratic, say professionals

Over 80% of social care practitioners say personalisation has led to more bureaucracy in their role, an increase on last year, finds Community Care's annual personalisation survey.

Personal budgets are saddling social workers with more red tape, leaving them less time to support service users, Community Care’s annual personalisation survey has found. The results suggest the problem of bureaucracy in the personal budgets process has got worse in the past year in the eyes of social care professionals.

Eighty two per cent of respondents said personalisation had resulted in more bureaucracy in their role, up from 73% in last year’s survey. Practitioners reported having to spend more time inputting data and completing longer assessment forms, reducing time with service users and the scope for creative practice.

[Read full coverage of the 2012 personalisation survey on our special report page]

“I am spending an inordinate amount of time on the computer as assessment documents are long and need to be completed in full even when not relevant to the situation,” said one. Another said that the job had “become a number-crunching bureaucratic nightmare”.

While service users can typically assess their own needs, alongside professionals’ assessments, 68% of respondents said assessment paperwork was too complicated for service users to complete themselves, up from 59% in last year’s survey. Professionals and users also struggled to understand resource allocation systems (RAS), which translate assessments into a monetary value. Three-quarters of respondents disagreed that their RAS was easy for service users and carers to understand, while 58% said it was not easy for professionals to understand.

“Of course, some paperwork will always be necessary to record important information, but this should never be allowed to get in the way of the crucial face-to-face work,” said Owen Davies, policy and public affairs adviser at The College of Social Work, which co-sponsored the survey with Unison. “Self-assessment and the RAS should not generate a mountain of paperwork, but should be a simple, reliable way of meeting need and realising individual aspiration.”

Social worker Trudy Burns, a media spokesperson for The College of Social Work, said that extra bureaucracy was probably unavoidable at this stage. “Personalisation has naturally added bureaucracy as you are liaising with a lot more people and processes,” she said. “It’s only in the last two or three years that local authorities have been doing it so it’s still new but hopefully as people become more used to the processes it will be smoother.”

Levels of bureaucracy should ease once personal budgets become the norm and councils cease running self-directed support alongside traditional care management processes, said Sarah Pickup, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services. “It is likely that in many places there is some double running of systems or separate recording arrangements for personal budgets while computer systems catch up with practice,” she said. “We would expect this to improve as personal budgets become the main way of working.”

An Adass survey, whose results were published last month, found just over half of users of ongoing council-funded community services were on personal budgets.

Community Care surveyed 272 social care professionals employed by local authorities in England, three-quarters of whom were registered social workers.

Read the full results of the survey

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