Personal budgets encouraged by councils

Councils inEnglandare increasingly seeking to encourage people living within their regions to use “personal budgets” to pay for their own social care costs. Whether the person is elderly, physically or mentally handicapped, the personal budget allows them to choose care provider themselves, while the council merely supplies the funds.

Both central and local government are promoting this move towards giving the English public greater control over the services they use as well as increased choice when it comes to where to get those services from, and it is hoped that in just one year’s time everyone who is due some level of social care from their local council will be paying for it through their own personal budget.

Councils like the scheme as it cuts down on the number of care staff they have to employ while consumers like it as they can shop around not only for the best deal financially, but also the best in terms of service and convenience. It sounds like a win-win situation for all concerned, but as with any new scheme involving public funds there are always those looking to take advantage. Reportedly there were over 100 cases of social care fraud, most involving personal budgets, during 2011.

That figure came from the Audit Commission which was asked to monitor the provision of social care through personal budgets to ensure this kind of thing did not happen. Unfortunately, these 100 cases alone cost the public over £2 million – and those are just the ones who were caught.

Personal budget cash to pay for care services can either be paid to the individual themselves, or if this is not appropriate a family member or appointed carer. There seems to be three main types of fraud relating to the personal budget scheme and each one is listed in some detail in the Audit Commission’s recent report “Protecting the Public Purse”.

The first type is similar to many existing benefit frauds, in that the individual makes a false claim for cash that they are not entitled to. However, the other two ways that the system has been defrauded are particular to this type of scheme; firstly, unscrupulous relatives or friends make the claim on behalf of someone who is unable to take care of themselves and then keep some or all of the money and secondly, organisations which provide the social care services over-charge the individual or council for the help they are providing.

Councils are showing that they are keen to crack down on personal budget frauds, with Croydon Council having the dubious honour of being the first organisation to pursue a successful case in the courts. Croydon resident Sameer Hamidi had kept over £12,000 that he claimed from the council on behalf of his ageing mother, stating that the money was going to pay for care that he was actually providing himself.

A spokesperson for the charity Action on Elder Abuse is concerned by this case and many others, in which evidence has shown that the very people allowed to make claims on behalf of their relatives, their children, are also the ones who are most likely to abuse this privilege.