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A fresh look at Direct Payments and Individual Service Funds (ISFs)
21 January 2021

Personal budgets are designed to give people more choice and control over their care and support plans. Individuals are given a choice as to how they would like their care and support to be managed.

  • Managed Budgets – where care and support are arranged on behalf of the individual
  • Direct Payments – where the individual is paid the funds directly
  • Independent Service Funds – where the budget is paid to a provider who manages it on behalf of the individual

Managed budgets are an important and necessary part of the delivery of social care.

Direct payments were designed to promote choice and independence over people’s care and support. The idea was that services bought and chosen by an individual would be more personalised and improve people’s health and wellbeing.

In reality however, Direct Payments are not being used in the way they were intended. Uptake has always been low for a variety of reasons but most pertinently because:
Councils have teams of people to do this but there is limited support available to individuals to assist with these functions.

  • There are too many challenges faced by an individual in finding and choosing appropriate types of care that are most suited to them
  • The complicated administrative processes required for an individual to receive the payments, becoming an employer, make payments etc

Councils have tenders to appoint DP Support Providers to assist people in managing their Direct Payments. This can be a valuable service that helps people access care and improves their choice of support options. But more often than not individuals are shepherded towards a small group of organisations who charge a fee (either to Councils or individuals) for basic administrative functions and ultimately tie individuals to employing a personal assistant. Whilst PAs can be a very effective way to deliver care and support, there are far wider and more varied options from which people could benefit.

Direct Payments done well can really help to empower individuals and enable improved wellbeing. However, there are still barriers and in many cases Direct Payments are not appropriate for an individual who wants to retain control over their care.

Individual Service Funds are a step in the right direction. With an ISF an individual chooses a provider to manage their personal budget. That provider will work collaboratively with the individual to find, arrange, and pay for appropriate care and support. Through an ISF an individual gets far greater choice of care and support providers than they would if the Council operated a managed budget. Plus the administrative burden and responsibility of looking after the funds is taken away from the individual.

A good ISF provider will help an individual find a range of providers who can meet their needs. As the ISF provider remains involved throughout the process, (instead of being simply an administrative process advisor) the individual can have a completely flexible, dynamic care and support plan.

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