‘The funding panel seems to forget there is a person waiting for their needs to be met’

An adults’ social worker shares their experience of how the funding panel works in their local authority

By Kate Brown

Funding panels have long been used in local authorities to scrutinise complex packages of care, but as Community Care’s recent research revealed, there are increasing frustrations for social workers around how these mechanisms operate, and in some cases councils are not acting in line with legal guidance.

I took part in this research because I think it is important for these practices to be brought out into the open. In my local authority, we are told the panel is not a funding panel – it is given a different name – and managers say it is a safeguard to ensure that the social worker’s judgement and social work assessment are sound.

But all requests for support must go to the panel, apart from decreases to a support package, which suggests to me the process is primarily about saving money.

‘Frustrating questions’

One of my main concerns is there have been a few cases where I have put what is considered a low-cost care package together and the service user is assessed as not needing to pay a contribution, yet the panel still questions why they can’t pay for their own care.

The case will regularly come back from panel with a note stating that the care has not been agreed, with a set of questions or options to consider. The panel wants to know why the person is asking us to meet the need and essentially why they aren’t paying it for themselves, as well as what other options have been explored.

All of this will have already been considered before we submit the support plan to panel. We always ask the person how they are currently meeting the need, and if anyone else is helping, so it is frustrating to be asked the same questions again.

‘We have a duty’

I think the root of the issue is some managers don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the law and their main concern is really to reduce costs to the local authority. It can feel like we’re constantly in battle with managers, telling them what the law says and that what they’re asking us to do is unlawful.

But if somebody has a need or appears to have a need then we have a duty to assess that person, and if they are found to be eligible to receive support from a local authority, then we have a duty to meet that person’s eligible needs.

Managers should know the law and we as social workers shouldn’t consistently have to quote it to them.

‘Lack of transparency’

I also feel uncomfortable about the fact that these meetings, in my experience, often appear to take place without social worker input.

A lot of social workers don’t have time to attend in person because of where the panel is held geographically, and in any case we are not routinely invited to attend panel meetings. The only time we would go is if we are a new member of staff and have requested to observe a panel taking place. However, in my experience, this is a panel of around 40-50 cases – cases that are not our own – and we are not allowed to give our input.

I went once when I was new to the job. The panel was made up of team managers with a social work or occupational therapy background, but there were also two senior managers attending who do not have professional experience in social work.

They made it very clear at the beginning of the meeting that the council has money to save. They then proceeded to question every support plan and ask why the number of hours, or a certain cost, was being requested, and how these hours and costs could be reduced. If the service user was requesting a direct payment, the senior managers wanted them to consider in-house care provision instead.

It felt very much focused on cost, but care and support planning is supposed to be person-centred, based on needs, and not what these managers think a person should have. The social worker works in collaboration with the service user to decide how their eligible needs should be met – that’s how it should work.

‘Unnecessary delays’

The panel decision-making process also creates a lot of delay. It can sometimes take a week to get an answer after the case has been submitted, and if the package has not been agreed or there are additional questions being asked then it can take even longer and causes a lot of extra work.

There have been cases where it’s taken three or four weeks to get a package approved, because it keeps getting sent back every week with different questions. There is a person at the end of all this waiting to have their needs met.

All assessments and support plans go to team managers for approval and then go to panel, where they are looked at again by the very same people who approved them in the first place. In my view, these approvals could be made locally, which would allow social workers and team managers to have conversations and reduce the inherent delay the panel process causes. The current set-up is frustrating for the social worker and the service user, and in some cases is not in line with the Care Act guidance.

Kate Brown is a pseudonym. She is an adults’ social worker

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6 Responses to ‘The funding panel seems to forget there is a person waiting for their needs to be met’

  1. sw11 November 6, 2018 at 12:08 pm #

    Too much of bureaucracy eating up a lot of money.
    Instead of having so many mangers, panel members and gatekeepers, resource could be better used by diverting that to the clients who need services.
    System is broken.

  2. Anon SW November 6, 2018 at 7:17 pm #

    Social work judgement is worth very little in my local authority. Everything is micro-managed and it is highly demeaning and undermining. I appreciate that local authorities are really struggling but managers don’t know the people that we work with, and that we have assessed and created support plans with. All they know is what we tell them, and thus panels are in effect useless because they’re making decisions about people they don’t know. Any savvy social worker will only make the service user’s issues seem more pressing in order to get them what they need – which goes against the values of the profession but which ultimately ensures that people’s needs are met.

    What is particularly perplexing is that many managers have never even been social workers and have no clue about person centred practice, human rights or even the Care Act.

    In my opinion the Care Act needs amending to banish funding panels (or whatever local authorities choose to call them to mask what they actually exist for).

  3. Georgie Boy November 7, 2018 at 1:50 pm #

    Funding Panels are in many cases already illegal. Many Social Work Managers are qualified Social Workers who driven by threats from senior managers and Directors that money has to be saved or else they will lose their jobs or be subject to competency procedures. Directors are also under similar threats from Chief Executives who are more than happy to pass the buck down the line. It is a shame that managers are forced to break the law rather than lose their jobs. Then of course the government has forced this through their continuing austerity measures.

    I have witnessed many stressed out Managers who are being brow beaten from above and from below. All the while they are under further pressure as they really do care about service users.

  4. Just me November 7, 2018 at 10:46 pm #

    Eliminating the panels might well eliminate the need for so many managers – gets my vote! Just need to be sure that the panel – less system is transparent and challengeable – oooops – more jobs for managers!

    • Who cares November 8, 2018 at 7:39 pm #

      Sad to hear people so down on management. Mine is actually very supportive even though they are overstretched. Unfortunately, not all practitioners are social workers and not all social workers can evidence their rationale for decision making. Not questioning this would also lead to a disservice to people. What you need is good managers with the time to invest in staff development and then you won’t need panels.

  5. We do November 9, 2018 at 2:19 pm #

    There are some fantastic managers but there are also some very poor ones who clearly should not be managing social workers, given their own flaws when it comes to knowledge of social work and all that it entails ie the law and statutory guidance. If social workers cannot ‘evidence their rarionale’ then surely they should be given support to improve their decision making and their ability to argue an effective case, and if this still fails then their capability should be questioned? I don’t see why a panel needs to become involved in scrutiniing decision making (if that is the point you are trying to make), as this is the responsibility of line managers (which leads on to the other point you make which I wholeheartedly agree with). People wouldn’t be ‘so down on management’ if management worked better with social workers and became less lap dogs of the system and the local authority and more advocates for their staff and the service users that their staff are trying to work with.