Legislation could solve council foot-dragging on personal budgets, say MPs

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The government should consider introducing legislation to give disabled people a legal right to a personal budget, according to a committee of MPs.

The report from the Commons public accounts committee said that a small number of councils were “dragging their feet” in offering personal budgets, which allow disabled people receiving council-funded care to choose who provides that support.

About 340,000 people, or 30 per cent of eligible care users, have a personal budget, while the government’s target is for all eligible users to be offered their own budget by 2013.

But 25 of 152 local authorities missed the government’s April 2011 “milestone” of 30 per cent of eligible users having a personal budget.

The committee called on the Department of Health to say how it would take action to ensure local authorities meet the 2013 target, while “a more radical option might be to enshrine in law people’s rights to a budget”.

The report – which looked at choice for users of care, and competition among care providers – says that most care users “hold personal budgets in high regard” and like the choice and control they give them, but that there was a need for more support.

The report says: “Some users are confused about what they can spend their budget on, and there are wide disparities in the level of information and support they receive across different authorities.”

It also says that only about half of those who use personal budgets find it easy to change their support, while about a third of users find the experience of employing personal assistants “daunting”.

The Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said: “It is alarming that people are not getting the support they need to make sensible choices about their social care.

“The use of personal budgets to promote user choice has been supported by successive governments.

“They can work only if people get the right information when they need it. But there are wide variations in the information provided by local authorities.”

The committee said procedures for users to complain about personal budgets – which mean many have to submit complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman – were “inadequate”.

The report also calls on the Department of Health (DH) to do more to provide “effective oversight” of the care market, following the collapse of the residential home operator Southern Cross.

A DH spokeswoman said the report would feed into next spring’s white paper on adult social care, while there would be a formal response to the committee’s report in February.

7 December 2011

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