York council is now able to spy on every spending decision a service-user makes, and intervene if they see expenditure they do not like showing up in their new Cashplus account.
The Cashplus accounts come with a debit card – known as the “gold card” – that allows a disabled person to pay for services such as their personal assistant.
But if the council sees funding allocated to the personal budget not being used – for example, because someone is saving up funds to spend on a one-off trip that requires extra support – it can withdraw the excess funds directly from the account without asking permission.
The first gold cards were issued in June, and from this month all service-users who manage their own direct payments have been moved onto the new accounts.
Although the council claims there “is no difference to how traditional direct payments work”, it admits that each account “is opened by the council, and the council has full rights to view transactions”.
Andy Pollin, treasurer of York People First, who lives independently and employs his own personal assistant, is one of those who have been forced to open a gold card account.
He has looked after his own support funding for 10 years, filling in his own time-sheets and writing his own cheques, and has enjoyed the independence and control it has given him.
He said: “This makes me really, really mad. It is taking my independence away from me. It is not very good for people with learning difficulties. I am just worried about the gold card if it happens to anyone else.”
Pollin said he had previously been able to save up his hours after his personal assistant quit unexpectedly, and then travel to Spain to see a friend with the support funding he saved. He believes this is the kind of choice he and other disabled people will not be able to make in the future.
Pollin has written to the council to complain about the loss of choice and independence.
He said: “It’s wrong. You need to ask a person with learning difficulties if it is alright [to look at their account].
“It is really upsetting what is going on, it’s frustrating. If it happens to me, it might happen to my other friends who have learning difficulties as well.”
A council spokeswoman said in a statement: “There is no change to the control that people have on the support they use to meet their eligible needs.
“As before, the support plan and outcomes to be met will be agreed with care managers. The change is to the bank account.”
But she admitted there had been no public consultation process before the new accounts were introduced.
She said: “We were asked by our auditors to move to a more robust system for monitoring the use of public money.
“Throughout our communications with residents, we have asked them to let us know if they would have problems with the new system and have worked with residents and care managers to respond to their comments, concerns and questions. We will continue to do this.”
The council has so far failed to respond to repeated attempts to provide more clarity on its position.
10 October 2013