Disabled activists are warning that local authorities could try to copy a council that has withdrawn funding from a direct payments support service.
Even though government guidance encourages councils to provide an independent advice and information service for users of direct payments, Hampshire County Council has stopped funding the service that had been provided by Southampton Centre for Independent Living (SCIL).
>From the beginning of this month, users of direct payments in Hampshire who need support to manage their direct payments or personal budgets have had to ask social services for extra funding, and then use that money to buy the support themselves.
The funding stopped only three weeks ago, but SCIL is already receiving calls from disabled people in Hampshire who are being given incomplete or incorrect advice by their care managers.
Problems they could face include disciplinary, redundancy and other legal issues with their PAs. Direct payments experts say such advice can prevent disabled people being taken to employment tribunals by their PAs.
SCIL had to make 10 employees – about half of its staff – redundant when Hampshire withdrew funding, although it still provides a similar service in Southampton.
But SCIL fears that other local authorities could follow Hampshire’s example.
Robert Droy, SCIL’s independent living team manager, said: “What it means is that we are no longer funded to help people to live independently and that is everything the government keep saying they want.
“It just feels kind of contradictory. If anything, more people are going to need help in the future, not less.
“We just worry that other local authorities will look at it and think, ‘Hampshire have got away with it. Maybe we can get away with it.’”
Hampshire has pledged to provide funding to disabled people for advice and support if and when they need it, but Droy said: “You don’t necessarily want to spend a month getting funding to get the help you need to sort it out.”
He said he believed Hampshire’s move was a cost-cutting measure.
A Hampshire County Council spokeswoman said they had decided to “re-evaluate” the way they delivered services as a result of the move towards greater personalisation of care and support.
She denied the move was a cost-cutting measure, and said: “Existing contracts for direct payments support finished at the end of last year and [were] replaced with a system which allows the individual to choose what support they need from the organisation which best suits them.
“The aim of this change is to provide a fair and consistent service which will reflect the level of need required, providing people with greater choice, control and flexibility over which provider they purchase their direct payments support service from.”
But she admitted SCIL had passed on concerns about inaccurate advice being given by care managers, which she said the council would “investigate fully”.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “It is for councils to provide information, advice and support services to enable people to make informed choices about the type of services they wish to receive.
“Adult social care is a locally delivered system, and local authorities are accountable to their local populations for the decisions they make.
“While some may be cutting services, others are working innovatively to provide high quality services at lower cost.”
26 January 2012