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Direct Payments User Group Meets for First Time

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We went to the first meeting of the Direct Payments User Group hosted by AgeUK on Wednesday. We were keen to support it, not only because we had tried (and failed) to get something similar going a few years ago, but also because the research we did for Healthwatch last year clearly highlighted the need for more 'peer support'.

 

The meeting was hosted by Chris Witcher from AgeUK, a familiar figure to most of us who have been involved with Personal Budgets here over the last 10 years ago. As well as pioneering the use of Direct Payments with her daughter Jenna, Chris has led the AgeUK support planning service since its inception. She started the meeting by talking us all through some of the highs and lows of managing care through a Direct Payment, from a personal and professional perspective.

 

The second speaker was Martin from ecdp, a Disabled People's User-Led Organisation that has now grown from its roots in Essex to become a national provider of support services for Direct Payments users. Martin spoke authoritatively about a range of topics. We were particularly interested in the auto-enrollment of Personal Assistants in pension schemes, a subject we know has been worrying a lot of people who employ their own PAs. Martin clearly spelt out the difference between people who employ others as a part of a for-profit business, and those who do so because that's the best (or sometimes the only) way to meet their health or social care needs. ecdp has apparently been doing some great work lobbying Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (the tax inspector) and the Department of Work and Pensions to try and get them to slow up on the relentless stream of threatening letters their automated systems have been throwing out.

 

The meeting was well-supported by people who actually use Direct Payments, many of whom were very well informed on recent developments. From our perspective, hearing people's actual experiences makes a great counterpoint to all the 'spin' we've had over the last 10 years. Over the course of the morning, people stuck up some stickers on flip charts, saying how they thought things were going (we've turned them into charts, just to make them easier to read).

 

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The first chart showed that, at least for the people who came, Direct Payments really could offer advantages over simply using Council services. However, no-one was pretending that it had been easy to get to this position.

 

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Clearly, many people still had difficulties making Direct Payments do the thinks they wanted to. For example, several people spoke of their frustration about not being able to get an updated assessment, or make changes to their support plans. Speculatively, people linked this with cuts to social services, and there not being enough Care Managers to go around.

 

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It seems that nearly everyone is still having difficulty getting the information and support they need, both at the start of the support planning process and then on an ongoing basis. This is completely consistent with what people told us when we did the research for Personal Budgets: Where Next in Oxfordshire last year. Perhaps it isn't surprising, but it is disappointing, particularly in the light of the new legal requirement for local authorities to provide information under the Care Act 2014. It seems that, as usual, it will be up to the voluntary sector and people who actually use Direct Payments to do it for ourselves. The Direct Payments User Group seems like a great start. Check out the AgeUK Oxfordshire page for forthcoming dates of meetings around Oxfordshire.

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