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A Year Long Adventure of Choice & Flexibility

April 7, 2015

It’s been exactly a year this week since Steven first started getting a Personal Budget. It was meant to bring a new dawn in choice and flexibility. Prior to April 2014, Steven’s care package had been split by receiving mainly commissioned services through an agency and a smaller direct payment to pay for our long term support worker and for 42 respite nights a year for me. The LA also funded Steven’s transport costs which they paid directly to the cab company.

Coincidentally on this anniversary, I met with Steven’s social worker today. It wasn’t planned to review the Personal Budget but to update his Fairer Access to Care Services assessment and my carer’s assessment. However, I thought I would use the opportunity to talk to her about what has worked well with the PB and what has been disastrous. Also, because the disastrous outweighs the good, in my eyes, I also stated that I was no longer prepared to use Hillingdon’s prepaid care system and wanted to go back to the old direct payment system, where the LA pay the Personal Budget directly into my appointed direct payment bank account.

So, what have been the good bits about Personalisation? Firstly, Steven’s care package has remained intact. This may sound like an odd advantage but the package was at serious risk of being slashed if we’d continued to receive commissioned services. The agency were charging extortionate rates for providing staff and the LA were no longer prepared to pay those rates. The second big advantage is that we have a very contented team of support workers. I am able to pay them more than they were receiving from the agency. I am much more reliable than the agency about paying them on time. We enjoy a good, trusting working relationship, so I know that they get more job satisfaction than their agency days. The final advantage has been an ethical/moral one. It is satisfying that every penny the LA pay Steven in his Personal Budget goes directly on making his life better and more fulfilling. A year ago, 52% of the money the LA paid out was going directly into the profits of the support agency and the cab firm. I find that abhorrent, especially as it was going to lead to Steven having his package cut.

There have been two big disadvantages. Firstly, the pressure and responsibility passed on to me has been huge. I like to think I’m quite an organised person but it still takes two hours out of my minimal free time to manage the payroll and all that entails. Because the LA don’t really like Personalisation, they have chosen to micro-manage their system, so I have to do lots of recording for them as well. Time and paperwork has grown considerably.

But by far, the biggest disadvantage has been the LA’s rigid position that in order to receive a Personal Budget, you have to accept the council’s only offer of payment and that is to have the PB paid onto a Prepaid card. I pointed out to the social worker this morning that this goes against the Care Act guidance which states that the service user must be offered a choice of payment methods for their Personal Budget but Hillingdon resolutely refuse to consider other options.

As a perfect example of the shambles of the prepaid card system, this is what has happened this month. Yesterday, the first Personal Budget of the new financial year should have been credited to the prepaid card. Overlooking the fact that it was a bank holiday, the LA didn’t pay in advance, so no money was credited to the card yesterday. Needless to say, there was nobody available from either the LA or the card company yesterday to discuss matters with. This morning, the Personal Budget still wasn’t on the prepaid card. I phoned the LA and was told that the money would be on the card by the end of the day. At 3.30pm, I checked again – still no money on the card. I phoned the card company and they confirmed that the payment had been credited that second. They confirmed it was clear to do an online transfer. I tried to do this. Although, the very antique system showed a payment had gone through, the balance hadn’t been updated, so when I tried to do the online transfer, it was rejected for “insufficient funds available”. I phone the card company back and she suggests we do a telephone transfer, which we do. She then tells me that because we are doing the transfer after 3pm, the payment won’t start processing until tomorrow and it will be between 3 and 5 working days before it gets into my account. Which means it is unlikely to be in my account by the time I need to do the support workers’ weekly wages on Friday.

I don’t think the person I spoke to in the LA’s direct payments team, nor the woman at the prepaid card company had any idea at all what the consequences of all this means. It means that I will be late paying the support workers their wages and they will be late paying their rent and buying their weekly food. Of course, I won’t let that happen. I have the money from the housing benefit appeal and I will pay them from that and reclaim it back when the money eventually gets into the direct payment account. I’m very serious about the workers trusting me and me not abusing their goodwill but if I didn’t have that recent windfall, I wouldn’t have been able to pay them. As I’m sure a lot of the recipients of personal budgets in Hillingdon won’t be able to do this week. I find that shocking.

I find it incredible that in 2015, a huge organisation Is still using a 1970s BACS system. Prior to the Personal Budget and having to use this crap prepaid card system, the direct payments were paid directly into my bank account and were available immediately. It worked so much better. Online banking is so much faster and I could pay the workers immediately or set up a payment date in the future. Now, all that choice and flexibility has gone.

If a Personal Budget is meant to be the way in which Personalisation is delivered, then this doesn’t work. There are no advantages to the service user or the person managing the budget whatsoever. There are advantages for the LA – they can surveil the use of the budgets via the prepaid card to their heart’s content. And they’ve probably reduced their admin work considerably. But for the service user, there is now a completely unnecessary middle man (in the form of the prepaid card company) that slows the process down ridiculously and creates an extra layer of laborious nonsense which is both time consuming and stressful.

I’d like to think that, if the LA take on board the guidance of the Care Act and allow me to ditch the prepaid card and have the Personal Budget paid directly into the direct payment bank account, then the second year of Personalisation will be much smoother and more like the original idea was intended to be. Having choice and flexibility. What a cool prospect that might be.

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From → Social Care

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