How social workers can support clients to pool their personal budgets

Practitioners have a key role to play in removing the barriers to people pooling their personal budgets and improving their lives as a result, says Paula Buckton

Pooling budgets workshop

By Paula Buckton, independent living advisor, Ruils

Individuals can pool their personal budgets, not only to save money, but also to share ideas, skills and support mechanisms. However, while pooling personal budgets is a great idea in principle, it can be difficult to orchestrate and keep running smoothly in practice.

The latest research and development on pooling is gathered on Ruils’ new pooling budgets website. This follows the production of our 2010 Guide to Pooling Direct Payments and takes reference from the subsequent pilot schemes and pooling work carried out by local authorities and voluntary organisations who purchased the guide or attended subsequent workshops.

Many projects made good progress, and some have stood the test of time, but others have faltered or folded when funding ran dry or pilots took longer than expected to get off the ground. The tools, templates and advice on Ruils’ website are intended to encourage groups to set things up efficiently and safeguard against some of the pitfalls and delays.

Tips for practitioners on pooling budgets

  • Allocate resource to focus on pooling. Even if this is part of another role, it is important that there is positive encouragement for pooling arrangements and a safety net for when things falter or wobble.
  • Encourage individuals to think about pooling when it’s right for them, not when it suits you and your processes.
  • Allow flexibility in the budget so that it is possible to return to individual arrangements if necessary.
  • Do not be too regimented in your approach or try to impose structure and process.
  • Educate your colleagues, especially those in finance.

The most important factor to be highlighted from all the events and workshops was that the most successful pooling arrangements have been made where there is resource from the local authority or local voluntary organisation to support them to be set up and run.

As part of this there is a key role for social workers in supporting people to take up and get the best out of pooling arrangements. Ruils has provided the following advice to answer common questions from practitioners about how pooling should work.

When and how should pooling be discussed with individuals?

Our experience suggests that introducing the idea of pooling budgets to individuals too early in the process can be confusing. An individual at the start of the support planning/direct payment process has a lot to think about. They might be new to direct employment and having control of a budget. If they have social needs, it might be something that can be discussed as an idea but it is best to wait until the individual is reasonably confident with managing their direct payment before into more detail.

In some situations, the group itself might guide the process. For example, a group of people about to leave college might be looking for a way to stay in contact with each other, or people in shared accommodation might want to make their funding go a bit further, in which case this might influence the timing.
There are no rules but introduction of the idea of pooling must be at a time to suit the individual and if it is factored into a first support plan, the individual should always have enough funds to achieve outcomes without the pooling element until the arrangement is well established.
How do people interested in pooling find others with similar interests?
Many people have an idea of a group of friends they want to share resources with, but if not finding others with similar interests can be difficult because social workers are often working in isolation or in small teams and may not get to know of others who may be looking. The ‘finding friends’ facility on Ruils’ pooling budgets website is an ideal way for individuals to find others. There is an opportunity for local authorities to promote the facility in a local area and use it as a way for people to meet others.
What is the role of the social worker in helping pooling to succeed?
Social workers can be tempted to try and create rigid processes but pooling arrangements need to have some flexibility to give them the best chance of working out. It really helps if social workers understand the concept of pooling and the benefits that can be achieved; hopefully our website will give some insight into this.

One thing we would absolutely recommend is that one person in a team or voluntary support organisation is given the responsibility (and the associated time) for co-ordinating and encouraging poolingactivity. They would learn about pooling, help colleagues to understand how it works and be there as a support for groups who might need support to set up or keep going.
How does pooling relate to outcomes, reviews and recording?
Support planning will always be individually based and this would not need to change in a pooling arrangement. The pooled budget will usually be only part of an individual’s total budget and may relate to only one or two of their outcomes. So reviews take place in the normal way for the individual and members of a group would usually be reviewed at different times anyway.

It is good practice to review the pooling arrangement with all the members of the group regularly and although this does not necessarily need to involve social services, the process could be linked and referenced in the individual’s reviews. Finally think about how you record the activity of pooling groups. Most recording is done individually but it is important to be able to reference the success or otherwise of pooling initiatives so social work teams should give some thought to how this might be done within their current frameworks.
How can finance teams help to make pooling work in practice?
Finance teams can often be a block to pooling arrangements. For example, they generally do not like to make payments into two different accounts so if someone wants to pool part of their budget into a joint account they need to set up a standing order from one to the other. Finance departments will often have rigid processes and rules and may have limited understanding. So first make sure you talk to the person who can influence changes – talk in pound notes and try to explain the possible savings and educate them to the benefits.
For more information and support, go to Ruils pooling budget website. You can also purchase an updated version of our Guide to pooling direct payments.

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