The Buffer Mystery Solved
A couple of months ago I wrote that I’d been “buffered”. I had no idea that this had happened or what it meant. Two months on, I’ve solved the mystery.
In December, my LA changed the provider for their personal budget prepaid card system. The service users were promised that the new system would be a more efficient, user friendly system. This happened at the same time that my request for additional respite had only been half agreed by panel and I was told by the support planner that the revised personal budget plus the arrears from November would be included in the first payment to be loaded onto the prepaid card on 15th December.
The first payment was credited to the card but it bore no resemblance to any of the previous payments, nor the amount I was expecting to include the new respite allocation. The LA don’t issue a notification, so you are not informed how the amount has been calculated. I meant to check it at the time but got distracted because I found it impossible to do an online transfer from the card and I had the small matter of the support workers’ wages to sort out. I ended up doing a telephone transfer.
The second payment is due today. Yesterday, I thought I’d better check what the payment will be. A lovely woman in the direct payments team explained all.
The LA’s policy is that for the first two months of receiving a personal budget, you get paid a slightly higher amount than your normal four week allocation. This adjusted amount is the ” buffer”. The rationale is that we might need a buffer whilst we get used to the new budget/card system. Fair enough. The following 10 payments are at a lesser amount than your four weekly allocation because you’ve already had the money in the first two months. The woman confirmed that the December payment on the card included the new respite allocation but was less than normal because I’d already had a buffer. It will all sort itself out by the start of the new financial year. Fingers crossed.
Whilst I was on the phone I asked her what happened to the money that was on the old card when the council changed provider company. She sighed deeply. It turns out the old and new systems can’t talk to each other and so she is having to make all the payments manually. A month after the changeover, she is still hard at it, trying to get old balances onto new cards (Steven’s hasn’t been done yet).
So much for buffers. You have had a buffer but you can’t access it because it is stuck in a void between the old card and the new card. And as ongoing payments are less than your normal monthly budget, you are chasing your tail all the time. In theory I’ve had my new respite allowance but I haven’t because the money is trapped in the void. I’d been wondering why I ran out of money last night!
I’m not knocking the front line staff. I felt sorry for the woman yesterday. She sounded weary and embarrassed. The issue is higher up. Someone made a decision that the only way the LA were going to pay their Personal Budgets was via a prepaid card system. No choice for the service user – its a card or nothing. Unlike the old direct payment system where you could have the money paid directly into your bank account, we now only have one option. For me, the old system worked much better – it was more efficient, more flexible and the service user had more control. All those advantages are now a thing of the past. Then, having decided to have just one payment option, the commissioners then went for the cheapest provider they could find. No matter that it significantly increases the workload of the carer and creates unnecessary work for their own staff (which is what I thought outsourcing was meant to avoid).
It’s a mess. But at least I know now what buffering is all about.
Update 9th January 6.11pm
Seething! The money for this month was due to go on the prepaid card this afternoon. I just phoned the card company to do a transfer and the money isn’t there. Call back tomorrow or Monday.
Forget buffers. Forget balances from the old card. Forget backdated respite allowances. The money due today was the basics of the personal budget – money to pay the support workers’ wages. And bear in mind that under their 1970s BACs system it takes 5 days for the money to go from the card to the recipient, I’m in the shit when it comes to paying the workers on Thursday. I know what will happen. I’ll have to pay the staff next week out of my money and then transfer the money from the card into my account. Within 24 hours the direct payments manager will phone me. As her job is to scrutinize service users prepaid card activity from her computer screen, she’ll give me a bollocking for paying funds into my personal account.
From → Social Care