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What are Personal Budgets and Direct Payments?

Direct payments and personal budgets are a central part of the 'personalisation agenda'.  The personalisation agenda is the drive to give people choice and control over the care services which they receive from adult social care funding by self directing their own support. 

You can find out much more about Personalisation, Personal Budgets and Direct Payments, as well as reading some case studies about how Personal Budgets could work for you, from the Think Local, Act Personal website.

What are Direct Payments? 

Direct Payments are cash payments given to individuals to pay for community care services which they have been assessed as needing, the intention is to give them greater choice and control in their care services.  The payment must be enough to enable the individual to buy services to meet their needs.  The payments must only be spent on the services identified in their support plan.

A direct payment gives a responsibility to the person receiving it to employ people, often known as personal assistants, or to buy services for themselves from established care agencies.  People can get support in fulfilling these responsibilities from direct payment support officers within the Council.  

Direct payments are available across the UK and to all client groups, including carers, parents of disabled children and people who lack mental capacity, however they cannot be used to purchase long term residential care or services provided directly by the Council. 

What is a Personal Budget?

A personal budget is an pot of funding given to people after an assessment which should be enough to meet their assessed needs.  People can either take their personal budget as a direct payment (while still choosing how their care needs are met and by whom) or leave the Council with the responsibility to buy the services on their behalf.  People can also choose to go with a combination of the two.

As a result, personal budgets provide a potentially good option for people who do not want to take on the responsibilities of a direct payment. 

What if I don’t want a Personal Budget?

Personal budgets are designed to ensure that the services received by a person are right for their circumstances and are delivered in the way which best suits them.  It is important to note that personal budgets do not impose any services or support on anyone.  Therefore it is not a question of not wanting a personal budget because individuals can still choose the same services as they have done in the past.  The guiding principle is that individuals have a real choice. 

What is the role of the social care professionals?

Social workers and other care staff play a number of roles in the delivery of personal budgets.

Decision-making – helping people to reach a decision on whether a direct payment or a council-managed personal budget is right for them. 

Assessment and resource allocation – assessing an persons' needs, or supporting them to assess their own needs, validating the assessment and allocating a budget to meet them, based on a resource allocation system. 

Reviewing the size of the personal budget – social workers may feel that a person’s personal budget is not enough to meet their needs, in which case they will take the case to a council funding panel. 

Support planning and brokerage – the social worker may assist the person to draw up a support plan in partnership with the individual and their family and providing information or sourcing services to implement the support plan. 

Review – keeping the person's support needs under review.

How does the Council ensure that my personal budget is spent legally, and that I am not at risk of abuse? 

Following assessment, a person will be told the amount of their 'indicative' budget – it is important to note that this indicative budget is not the final allocation of funds needed to meet an individuals support needs, however this will enable work to commence upon the support plan. 

The support plan will list the types of support an individual will require to meet the needs identified in the initial assessment, and how the budget will be spent to meet those needs.  The support plan therefore will document the outcomes needed to meet the needs of the individual.  The social care professional will then check to ensure that the plan is appropriate and that the money is not going to be used on:

  • Anything illegal
  • NHS costs and healthcare
  • Housing costs
  • Household bills
  • Services from the local authority
  • Long term residential care; or
  • Anything which does not meet the individuals agreed needs as specified in the support plan

Once the social care professional is happy with the content of the persons' support plan, the services will be agreed and put into place. 

Safeguarding an individual is a key priority for the department and it is of vital importance that the individual is kept safe whatever their circumstances.  Depending upon the risks involved with the support plan, the department will review the plan as regularly as necessary, to ensure that it continues to meet the individual needs.  If an instance of abuse does occur, the social care professional will intervene and build an appropriate plan to reduce and manage the identified risks. 

A financial audit will also take place at least once a year, as the Council has a responsibility to ensure that public money is spent and accounted for appropriately.  Where an individual manages their own budget (as a direct payment), the council requires a consistent and thorough approach to record keeping which is proportionate to the needs of the person.  To this end individuals will be required to open a separate bank account and will be required to keep bank statements and receipts for monitoring by the department. 

If the financial audit results in concerns regarding the use of the payments, these concerns will be passed back to the social care professional thereby providing a further safeguard against potential abuse.  However if the individual spends their direct payment on items not included within the support plan, there are very clear rules which state that they may have to pay the money back. 

Can I employ a member of my family as my personal assistant?

A family member can be employed as a personal assistant, as long as they do not live at the same address as the person in need of support.

What about my carer? 

A carer plays a crucial role in supporting a person and making sure that their situation does not deteriorate, however the carer may have needs in their own right.  Therefore when a persons' needs are assessed, it is also very important for the needs of the carer to also be taken into account.  From this assessment, support may be provided to a carer to enable them to continue in their caring role.  At the same time it is important that a carer is not disadvantaged in taking on caring responsibilities, and assistance may be given to help them to maintain their work situation or to continue to pursue hobbies, social and.or leisure activities.  As a result a carer may be allocated a personal budget of their own.

What if I want to change the support I have chosen?

A person can contact their social care professional at any time to discuss the contents of their support plan.  Together agreement can then be reached on the way the personal budget is spent in order to meet the outcomes.  If an individuals circumstances change significantly, a reassessment may need to be undertaken and the indicative budget may be increased or decreased. 

For any further advice or information contact either our Direct Payments Team on 0151 666 4664 or our Central Advice and Duty Team on 0151 606 2006.