About a week ago I finally had my Personal Budget sent from my county council to my elected payroll service. It was a long, stressful road – mostly because I had no idea what I was doing, and couldn’t wrap my head around the lack of transparency in the system.
I’m not an expert, but I wanted to share what I learned on the way, and to encourage more people to apply for a budget. Once it’s in place, it could really make a difference to your life.
This will cover the basics of getting a budget. Next week I will move onto how to find a Personal Assistant, and the basics of becoming an employer.
How do I get the help I need?
A few years ago the new buzzword became ‘Personalisation’ in social care. The idea is that people with a disability should be put in control of any help they are assessed as needing by Social Services. For example if someone is assessed as needing care, Social Services could link that person up to an agency. They won’t know who is coming each day, and their visits may be fitted in around other clients – rather than when is right for them. Instead a budget would allow the person to be given the ability to employ someone directly, therefore having chosen and vetted the person caring for them, and that person then working to their specific routine. The budget then gives choice and control to the person needing care.
The idea behind it is very simple, although getting it all in place can be a little more complicated. However, it’s still a great improvement, and once you’re fully informed on how the system works, it can make a great difference to your life.
The one negative that I will say up front, is that the idea behind them is that once your budget has been assessed, you can spend it on whatever helps you to meet your assessed needs. But this ethos seems to have changed though (of course along with the many other welfare cuts) to “the smaller we can get your budget, the better!” However there can be ways around this to try and stop that happening.
Eligibility for Personal Budgets
People with disabilities are the target for the budgets (although they do exist for carers and older people who may not see themselves as disabled), and they are usually for people who need some kind of care – although not always. The Fair Access to Care Services (FACS) is the guide that councils have to follow when assessing your needs. There are four defined eligibility bands – critical, substantial, moderate and low. It’s a good idea to read the guide to see how they break this down. All councils have to meet critical and substantial needs. Some also meet moderate, and others meet all four – but this will depend on the size of the council’s overall budget, and the need in their area. I will explain later on exactly what they’re assessing with these bands.
How do I get a Personal Budget?
In summary here are the steps that lead to a personal budget:
1) Call Social Services
You can self-refer. Find your local office by searching ‘Adult Social Care Direct’ followed by the county you live. Ask for an assessment for a Personal Budget.
2) Have a telephone assessment
They aren’t that in-depth, you most likely just need to answer a few questions about what you’d like to achieve with a budget. You don’t need to go into detail here at all, I think it’s just to give them an idea. However, it is important to mention any particular difficulties in your circumstances i.e. any issues with your current informal carer, if your health has taken a dramatic downturn, you’ve been injured, or any impending major life changes, such as a pregnancy, etc. They then use this information to prioritise cases.
3) Wait a really long time
The next step is being assigned to a Social Worker, and this is usually where there is a long waiting list. I think I waited about six months, but some areas will be shorter, others longer.
4) Have an assessment by a Social Worker
This is where things start to happen. A social worker will visit you and find out all about you, and the help you’d like. They use this information to generate your Personal Budget amount.
5) Have a means-test to see how much you will have to contribute to your budget
You may not have to pay anything, you may have to pay towards your budget, or you may have to pay for everything.
6) Create your Support Plan
Once you know how much your total budget is, you need to work out how you’d like to spend it. This document then gets submitted back to your Social Worker for approval.
7) Argue back and forth if they won’t give you what you need
This is the part where you need to make your case about why you’re asking for what you are.
8) They agree it, and the funds get transferred
There are a few options of how the money is managed. You can do it yourself, or another organisation can do it for you.
Spend it as you set out in your budget.
What kind of help can a personal budget provide?
If you have a look at the information online about personal budget it will tell you it can provide help with all kinds of interesting and helpful things. For example here is what the charity Mind say a personal budget can pay for:
- getting help with cooking, shopping and cleaning
- having short breaks or a holiday
- leisure activities, e.g. an art class or a walking group
- having driving lessons
- buying specialist or computer equipment to make life easier
- buying membership of a gym or sports club
- finding a job or learning new skills
- having an aromatherapy massage or other alternative therapy
That all sounds really great doesn’t it? You start thinking about respite breaks, being able to swim weekly when you haven’t been able to afford it before and so on. And it’s true when the budgets first started these are the kind of budgets people were getting.
However, as you can imagine budgets are now being squeezed. It’s not that you absolutely cannot get any of the these things provided, it’s just a lot harder.
You definitely need to be able to fight for it, and have the right support because it’s most likely your social worker will tell you it’s impossible to get this kind of help. They will have been told by their managers to keep budgets as low as possible, and often won’t give you the information you need to be able to apply for that kind of assistance.
Most of the support they will want to offer you will be around having a personal assistant if that’s something suitable for your disability and needs. They may still try to get the hours as low as possible in many cases, so you need to be on the ball and be able to justify your needs.
I just want to make it clear here I’m not necessarily blaming the social workers – I’m sure there are a lot of social workers out there who are still fighting for the best interests of the client, however when they’re getting edicts from above that budgets must be as small as possible and they’ll be queried as to why they’re not, it must be pretty tough on them. That’s why it’s really important that you know your rights so that you know how to get around the information that you’re being told.
What is a personal assistant?
A personal assistant is the new fancy way of saying carer – except carer can sometimes have a negative connotation of being “looked after”. It also takes into account that your PA will do a lot more than simply care for you. There is such a range of disabilities and needs out there, but not everyone needs a PA to get undressed and feed them for example, although of course some do. You may be perfectly capable of doing that yourself, that need someone to drive you to appointments, or support you with your paperwork because you get overwhelmed, or to come to activity classes with you because you need a little bit of extra help – there are so many things a personal assistant can do.
What if I already have a carer?
This is completely your decision, but sometimes I find in some situations a carer has become a carer out of necessity, rather than it being completely right for either your needs, or their lives. Over the last two years my mum has become my informal carer but she still works. This means that she has to take time off work because of my appointments, and that her availability to help me is quite limited. I also feel she doesn’t really get a rest from work – as all her annual leave is spent on my appointments, and doing things I need to do, rather than on fun activities. So it doesn’t quite work as well as it could.
I think a lot of people have relatives that have become their carers, such as their parents, spouses or children. And they may feel this is their only choice, but it’s not. You are entitled to have a relationship with your parent, spouse or child that remains as it should be – without the added extra stress of them being a carer also, unless you are both perfectly happy with this arrangement. In which case – carry on! But the important thing is that Social Services cannot argue that as they are currently caring for you, this must continue.
Normally a Personal Budget will not allow you to pay a close relative – particularly one you’re living with to care for you. There are some exceptions though, like where it would cause extreme distress for anyone else to do it. It has to be a pretty big reason, but it’s possible. So talk to your Social Worker if you think this may apply in your case.
Part Two is available here. It will cover:
How will the assessment work?
What areas of your life will the review look at?
How does the means-test work, and how should I prepare?