Councils are misusing funding panels to make decisions about whether to authorise care packages, a legal expert has warned.
Speaking at a Legal Action Group event last week, Luke Clements, cerebra professor of law at Leeds University, claimed funding panels were now “rife” among local authorities but are not being used in line with the Care Act guidance.
The guidance states that funding panels might be appropriate for signing off large or unique personal budget allocations and care packages, but should not be used to “amend planning decisions, micro-manage the planning process, or are in place purely for financial reasons”.
Clements said: “That’s in the statutory guidance, it’s binding, but nearly every local authority has one [a panel] and in many councils, everything has to go to that panel. It’s not [just] micro-management, it’s everything.”
‘Care Act compliance’
He pointed to a Local Government Ombudsman decision about Brighton and Hove council in August 2016 as evidence of concerns with councils’ use of panels.
A woman with disabilities complained to the LGO after the council refused to fund her care. A care manager assessed her as needing support to meet some of her eligible needs, especially around showering and washing her hair, but the panel rejected this recommendation.
The ombudsman questioned whether the panel was purely looking at compliance with the Care Act and cost effectiveness. She added that while it was possible that the woman’s care needs could be met in other ways, this should have been done through proper care planning and in consultation with the woman, not through a decision “in direct contravention of the care manager’s recommendation by a panel who was not involved in the assessment.”
Clements said: “This is the classic situation – a social worker goes out and assesses a person as having these needs, only for the panel or care manager to say no.
“The panel members are not there, they are not seeing the person, not taking in all that information, so they have no discretion to bear.”
He added: “Social workers have crazy caseloads. They are doing their best, assessing people and getting pushed back by a manager or a panel. The families come to us upset about the social worker, but when you look at the papers, it was not the social worker at all.”
How do you feel your council uses funding panels? Community Care is keen to hear from social workers about their experiences. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to share your story.