Direct payments: Answering frequently asked questions

Question 08. What are direct payment support services and how can local authorities develop effective partnerships with them?

As a recipient of direct payments there are significant administrative tasks to be undertaken, including the employment and management of care staff, taxation and accounting issues. There are differences in the level and standard of support offered to direct payment users by councils in respect of these issues. The quality of the support provided has a significant impact on the experience of using direct payments. Some councils have commissioned independent agencies to provide a support service to direct payment users. People said that they prefer an independent body to provide the support service. (7)

Direct payment support services (DPSS) can comprise local groups of direct payment (DP) users solely led and run by disabled people who work with local authorities to provide free and independent support services to direct payments users.

Evidence from the practice survey suggests that a good relationship between the DPSS and local authority is essential in the continued development of direct payments locally.

We run bi-monthly direct payment user group meetings. We have a DP service user as chair of our local implementation steering group.

Brighton Direct Payments Advice Service

The evidence has shown that councils working in partnership with the voluntary sector, especially organisations run by disabled people themselves, are often the best way to deliver direct payments.

Dr Stephen Ladyman, former Minister for Community, Department of Health, 26 January 2004

In addition to locally run user-controlled organisations, support organisations can be run nationally - for example, by the Penderel, Rowan or Shaw Trusts, who provide support services to direct payment users through contracts with a number of local authorities.

The scheme is managed by a committee of DP recipients who guide the direction of the scheme and support and direct the staff. The PA User Group meets regularly and has an opportunity to feed views to management committee and staff.

Kingston Centre for Independent Living

A support service needs to offer ongoing support throughout the life of the DP, not just [in the] initial stages. As a support service, it is important not to take over someone's DP but support them and assist them in all aspects of the process. It is also important to remain unbiased and impartial when dealing with social services and the service users.

Sandwell Ideal for All Ltd

Local authorities should make the most of the DPSS expertise and agree on the most effective ways to ensure communication. Local authorities could also employ the DPSS to deliver training and coordinate service user feedback.

This could be directly through the DPSS, through partnership boards or direct payments user and consultation groups.

A user-controlled best-value review of direct payments (19) concluded that:

"Developing more appropriate independent support mechanisms and improving internal management and financial processes within the Social Services Department would improve disabled people's experience of direct payments use and therefore the quality of their lives. The knowledge and confidence of care managers is crucial to the information and messages given to service users about their choice of direct payments and therefore its uptake. "

Social services listen to and rely quite heavily on our opinion. We suggested they use a 'fast-tracking protocol' for users who already receive community care packages instead of having to wait sometimes up to one year while they are referred to a different care manager. Social services listened to us and the system was adopted.

Croydon Direct Payments Support Service

Direct payment users have influenced the way we work. We have a direct payment support worker contract with a local voluntary organisation and one of the challenges for them is delivering the business of the contract and advocating on behalf of service users. The relationship between the two organisations is positive and this is critical to the successful working relationship.

Hampshire LA

We are an organisation of disabled people, 100% run, staffed and controlled by disabled people. We are all service users.

Independent Choices, Northamptonshire

All our management committee are disabled people. We consult with disabled people. We work to the social model of disability. Our service aims to promote disabled people as experts in their own lives.

Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Direct Payments Support Service

We work with our user groups with DP Partnership Board. Any decisions that have to be made about direct payments can only be made at these meetings. Decisions cannot be made without their guidance. Meetings are held on a monthly basis. Council have confidence in user-led groups, user-led managed. I am involved step by step but they are in charge.

Gateshead LA

Support services were crucial in enabling older people to use direct payments. The major difficulty lay in meeting audit and administrative demands, necessitating ongoing assistance from support services. Local authority funding does not always account for this. (4)

It is important that local people should be consulted fully as local arrangements for making direct payments are set up. The best direct payments schemes have been developed by local authorities and users working together to draw up a scheme that meets local needs. Local authorities will wish to take care to avoid focusing on one group of potential users to the exclusion of other groups and should not make the assumption that organised groups necessarily represent all users and their carers in the locality who might benefit from the flexibility offered by direct payments. (18)