Direct payments – don’t get fooled by personalisation

by stevebroach

I’m sceptical about personalisation. The principle of disabled people and families having choice and control over care arrangements is unarguably right. However in practice I see personalisation delivering two bad things. Firstly, personalised approaches are used to transfer risk and responsibility for care from the state to disabled people and their carers. See the brilliantly titled paper by Prof Luke Clements, ‘Individual Budgets and irrational exuberance’. As Mark Neary put it yesterday in his alternative social care dictionary; ‘Personalisation – Phew, got rid of another annoying statutory duty.’ By way of example, people who use direct payments to employ their own Personal Assistants must make arrangements for tax, National Insurance contributions and statutory sick and maternity pay – as they become employers. Is that something most people would want to take on?

Secondly, personalisation is used as a cover for cuts. It seems to be far easier for local authorities to tell people their personal budget is being reduced by 20% than to tell them that the service they were receiving on five days a week is now only to be provided on four. It’s even easier to change the way your Resource Allocation System generates an ‘indicative’ budget (more on RASes below) to reduce this figure in a way that disabled people and families will struggle to understand. None of this is lawful if the service / funding is being provided in discharge of the CSDPA duty, because the CSPDA requires eligible needs to be met in full – but that doesn’t stop it happening across the country.

Saying all this though, I recognise that for some disabled people and families with disabled children the right to a direct payment has led to a massive improvement in their lives. Despite all the rhetoric of personal budgets, to my mind it is direct payments which still matter – they are the mechanism by which money actually moves from the state to disabled people and families. In the best areas, direct payments have killed the culture of the one-size-fits-all service which previously existed and led to real innovation in the services available to disabled children and adults. In the best areas.

Personalisation is often seen as a law-free zone. In Control once published a paper with the (in my view) shocking title ‘Don’t be fooled by the law. However unsurprisingly the allocation of state resources to individuals through direct payments is in fact covered by a significant amount of law and guidance. I’ve already written about the new SEN direct payments under the Children and Families Act 2014. The problem with these is that, in short, the local authority is not allowed to make an SEN direct payment if to do so would lead to additional costs. In health, there is a new right to a personal health budget from 1 October 2014 for children and adults who are eligible for NHS continuing healthcare – but as far as I can tell it is up to the NHS in every case whether to make a direct payment. See para 7.2 of this guidance on the right to have a personal health budget which suggests health direct payments can be refused if they are ‘impracticable or inappropriate’. The detailed guidance on health direct payments confirms that health direct payments can be made when they are appropriate for the individual and represent value for money – but this does not mean that in any case they must be made.

So the right to a direct payment is most real in social care – and works in essentially the same way for disabled children and disabled adults. Links to the law follow – with the usual health warning that some may not have been updated with relevant amendments. The links should at least give the basic statutory scheme.

The key statutory provision (until next April at least when the Care Act 2014 comes into force for disabled adults) is section 57 of the Health and Social Care Act 2001, which requires that direct payments must meet the ‘reasonable cost of securing’ the necessary service. The duty to make direct payments when services are being provided to disabled children stems from section 17A of the Children Act 1989. Adults who lack capacity in relation to relevant decisions about direct payments now have a right to them under section 146 of the Health and Social Care Act 2008.

Under the Community Care, Services for Carers and Children’s Services (Direct Payments) (England) Regulations 2009, social care direct payments essentially must be offered in any case where the disabled person or family is capable of managing them, either alone or with available help. The way in which social care direct payments should operate is governed by statutory guidance with the snappy title Guidance on direct payments for community care, services for carers and children’s services: England 2009.

From this statutory scheme we can construct some answers to questions that might arise where local authorities neglect the fact that the right to direct payments is carefully defined in law. Here are some of the questions that I have been hearing recently about direct payments, and my general answers – although of course, any individual case needs careful fact-specific advice:

  1. Do I have to accept a direct payment? No. Direct payments are a right in social care (absent exceptional circumstances) but they are also a choice. If the disabled person or family don’t want to deal with a direct payment, they are entitled to say that they would prefer a service to be provided to meet the eligible needs. Of course, they will then need to negotiate with the local authority as to what service is to be offered – and providing it meets the need, the local authority is not obliged to fund a more expensive service when a cheaper one is available. However no disabled person or family should ever be forced to accept a direct payment. See the guidance at para 15; ‘A person does not have to accept direct payments; if they wish, they can choose instead to receive services that are provided or arranged by the
    council.’ The guidance emphasises the need for support services and advocacy so that the choice as to whether to have a direct payment is a fair one in every case.
  2. How should the amount of direct payment be set? Direct payments should be set in each case at the amount that the local authority considers will meet the reasonable cost of securing the necessary services for that person. That assessment by the local authority has to be informed by the evidence, including the assessment and the service plan, setting out what services the authority considers would be sufficient to meet the eligible needs. In order to comply with the statutory duty the local authority has to assess the disabled person’s needs, determine which are eligible for support, decide which services would be sufficient to meet those needs and then work out what that package of services would cost. That is the sum of money which should be offered as a direct payment – although of course what the disabled person or family choose to buy with that money is (within reason) up to them (see below). See the guidance at para 111 onwards for more detail about how the amount of direct payments should be set. Importantly the guidance emphasises at para 114 that ‘councils should include associated costs that are necessarily incurred in securing provision, without which the service could not be provided or could not lawfully be provided’ – for example recruitment costs, National Insurance or VAT. If you’re going to take on the state’s employment responsibilities it’s reassuring to know the state is obliged to fund them.
  3. Can a local authority have a fixed direct payment rate with no exceptions? No. Local authorities can’t ever operate blanket policies (unless the policy just reflects a legal rule) – they must always at least consider exceptional cases. However here we have a clear statutory duty which states that the amount of direct payment must mirror the cost of services to meet the individual disabled person’s needs. So a local authority could not have a fixed hourly rate of (say) 9.50 per hour for a carer – because some disabled people may need a more specialist service with greater cost. In my view it is doubtful whether even a typical rate with more allowed in exceptional cases is lawful, because this may not allow the case-specific focus which the law requires.
  4. Can a local authority use its RAS to determine the amount of money offered as a direct payment? No. Prior to the Supreme Court’s judgment in KM v Cambridgeshire CC, in my experience local authorities were routinely using their Resource Allocation Scheme (RAS) to determine the amount to be paid by way of a direct payment in any particular case. A RAS, put shortly, is a mechanism by which needs can be translated into sums of money using the rough cost of meeting similar needs in the area. What this skips out is the essential step of working how much it would cost to provide services to meet the particular needs of the individual disabled person. This is why the Supreme Court in KM made clear that RASes can only be used to create a ‘starting point’ or ‘ballpark figure’ – more formally, an ‘indicative allocation’ at the start of the process. So the RAS could generate a sum of say 120.00 – but the essential next step is to develop a support plan to see how much it will actually cost to meet the disabled person’s needs and then (inevitably) increase the sum allocated to comply with the legal duty. See a detailed critique of the use of RASes by Prof Luke Clements and Lucy Series for more reasons why their use is problematic – but confined to the role prescribed by the Supreme Court in KM their use is lawful.
  5. Can a local authority refuse to allow direct payments to be spent on anything other than personal assistants? No. The whole point of direct payments is to allow flexibility in the way in which care is provided and arranged. As the statutory guidance says ‘a direct payment gives the service user flexibility to look beyond ‘off-the-peg’ service solutions at options that may include employment, education and leisure activities as well as personal assistance to meet their assessed needs.’ It is totally unacceptable in 2014, when direct payments have been around since 1996, that local authorities still seem to be asserting unlawful limits on direct payment expenditure. See also para 14 of the guidance; ‘Direct payments do not have to be used in the same way as if support was being provided directly by the council. Indeed, they are intended to give the individual the maximum degree of choice and control over how their eligible
    needs are met.’ Finally see para 90; ‘In discussions with individuals about how their needs might be met through
    direct payments, councils should be prepared to be open to new ideas and be as flexible as possible’ and para 92, ‘Conditions [on the use of direct payments] should be proportionate and no more extensive, in terms or number, than is reasonably necessary.’ So why are these rigid rules about what direct payments can be spent on still in place?
  6. Does a direct payment have to be enough to cover things like transport and activity costs? Generally, yes. To repeat – the amount of direct payment should meet the reasonable cost of securing the necessary service to meet the disabled person’s needs. So if the service is intended to meet a disabled person’s needs in relation to social isolation, the ‘necessary cost’ of securing this service will include the cost of getting there and the cost of securing admission. Both transport and activity costs are covered by the CSDPA duty and so must be met where this is necessary to meet the person’s needs. The guidance helpfully emphasises that ‘Some people might use their direct payments to facilitate better social inclusion, others to aid their general well-being, for example through fitness classes or arts and cultural activities.’ The only situation where a direct payment need not cover these costs is if the local authority can reasonably conclude that it is not necessary for it to provide these services because they can be met another way. However that would need to be a rational decision based on the evidence in a particular case. For example, a blanket policy that transport costs will not be met via a direct payment because they can be paid for through state benefits will be unlawful.
  7. Can the local authority refuse to allow direct payments to be spent on a particular service on grounds of risk? Yes – but only if there has been careful assessment in the individual case. As the guidance emphasises at para 97; ‘Support planning involves allowing people to make their own informed decisions – including decisions about risk. Councils have a responsibility to ensure that, wherever possible, the choices made by the individual are respected and supported. The benefits of increased autonomy and social inclusion may have to be weighed against the risks associated with particular choices.’ This reflects the requirement to respect disabled people’s rights to private life, dignity and autonomy under Article 8 ECHR.
  8. Does there still need to be a care plan when support is being provided via a direct payment? Yes. See the guidance at para 98; ‘Councils are reminded that there should always be a care plan, a written copy of which should be given to the individual. This advice applies equally where people direct their own support or where the council directly
    provides or arranges services.’ There is an obvious reason why this is so important – if there is not a written plan setting out which services the local authority considers necessary to meet the person’s needs, how can anyone tell whether the amount of the direct payment is sufficient?

I hope this myth-busting exercise is some help. If personalisation is going to have benefits for disabled people and families as a policy approach it needs to be operated in accordance with the law. Disabled people and families must not get fooled by personalisation. Whether eligible needs are met through services or money the law requires that they are met properly and in full.

Please post any comments and general questions about the law on direct payments below and I will address those which are not case specific. For case specific issues I suggest contacting a specialist solicitor. While low level disputes around direct payments should be resolved through the local authority complaints process, serious disputes may require an application for judicial review.

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