Older people to take control of £21m social services budget

PLANS are being drawn up by the city council to give older and disabled people direct control over a £21m social services budget.

Nottingham City Council is preparing for a massive shift in the way it supports adults.

Rather than simply providing services like day centres, transport and meals, the council will calculate how much it is able to spend on each “client” in a “personal budget”.

The individual will then be able to spend the money themselves – on existing services, like transport to and from a day centre, or something completely different, like tickets to a concert.

A pilot will be held in the next year to test out the new plans.

As part of its planning, the local authority now estimates the money available, once the new system is up and running will be £21,426,580.

Helen Jones, director for Self Directed Support at Nottingham City Council, said: “If people do not want to change they can keep doing what they are doing.

“This system provides an opportunity of having more options. For some people it can make a real difference for them.”

In a pilot scheme in Oldham four out of ten clients continues to use the same services they always had.

The Government has told local authorities that they must have 30% of their clients using personal budgets by March 2011.

Those who take part will be allocated a social care assessor, who will work out what the client’s personal budget will be. The client will discuss with the social worker what they want to achieve with the money – for example, to meet other people, to exercise, to eat well – and both parties must agree how this will be done. The client will either spend the money on what has been agreed, or will be put in touch with a local organisation set up to help people find the services they need.

Currently, the council is considering safeguards to ensure the money is spent on what it is intended for.

In some cases, clients will not be allowed to have a personal budget, if for example they are an alcoholic and there is a significant risk they may spend the money on drink.

Clients must also be protected from other people, sometimes relatives, who could pilfer the money.

Ms Jones said: “There are always safeguarding issues in terms of money that we have to take account of.

“One of the things we want to look at is are we sure if we give people money to spend directly, will they spend it in their own interests. We have to make sure we manage that.”

A pilot scheme has been run in Lincolnshire with 66 clients.

They spent their cash on ramps for wheelchair access to cars, gym membership, a bike, computers for internet shopping, a trip to Center Parcs, a 1970s music weekend at Skegness, and tickets to classical music concerts. The trips provided entertainment for clients but also respite for carers.

In one case, a young man with mental health problems bought an old car which he put back into working order and he is now a volunteer driver for charities in his local community. The objective was to use some engineering skills he had and to tackle the isolation he felt. With his new found confidence, he now hopes to get back into employment.

Gill Buchanan-Huck, a head of service at Lincolnshire County Council, said: “The approach definitely had better outcomes for individuals, regardless of age or disability.

“When we gave people an increased choice and control some wanted different things, others didn’t and some just wanted flexibility. We did not get any negative reports.”