Commissioning adult social care services through personal budgets and direct payments is an important way of giving care users more choice and control over their services. When implemented well they improve users’ quality of life. The Department of Health, however, requires a deeper understanding of the best ways to implement personalised commissioning, according to the National Audit Office.

Local authorities spent £6.3 billion on long-term community care in 2014-15. Around 500,000 adults in England received personal budgets in 2014-15, varying between 10% and 100% of users across authorities. The Care Act made personal budgets mandatory for all eligible users from April 2015. Much of the positive evidence for personalising commissioning, however, is old or relates to subgroups of users. The NAO believes there is a strong case for better use of existing surveys and evidence gathering, so the Department and its national partners understand the relationship between the different ways to commission personalised services for users, and improvements in user outcomes. The Department is extending personal budgets in healthcare and has an ambition that between 50,000 and 100,000 people will have a personal health budget by 2020.

The NAO found that some authorities have transformed their care and support processes to ration their resources fairly, share information about a broad range of local services, and monitor and manage spending on personal budgets efficiently, while others are finding personalising commissioning a challenge as they seek to save money, and are constrained in how they can personalise care by the need to reduce overall spending.

There are circumstances under which personalised commissioning can reduce the costs of care. For example, around 120,000 personal assistants are employed by users with direct payments to provide personal care, which is generally a cheaper option than homecare. The Care Act guidance, however, acknowledges that responding to users’ needs and their desired outcomes can increase the cost of care. The NAO also found that some authorities are struggling to manage and support their local care markets as well as we would expect of a well-functioning public service market.

The Department expects the value-for-money of personalised commissioning to come from improved outcomes for users, not necessarily from savings, which differs from local authorities’ expectations that savings can be made by personalising care. The Department’s monitoring regime does not enable it to fully understand how personal budgets and direct payments improve outcomes. In addition, the Department has not investigated how services can be personalised when money is tight. It is not clear whether local authorities will achieve the spending reductions they have forecast without putting user outcomes at risk.

“Giving users more choice and control over their care through personal budgets and direct payments can improve their quality of life, but much of the positive evidence for personalised commissioning of adult care services is old. The Department now needs to gain a better understanding of the different ways to commission personalised services for users, and how these lead to improvements in user outcomes.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office

Read the full report

Personalised commissioning in adult social care

Notes for editors

500,000 Approximate number of adults in England whose social care services were paid for through local authority personal budgets in 2014-15 £6.3bn Spending by local authorities on long-term social care for adults in the community, 2014-15 7% Real-terms reduction in spend on adult social care by local authorities between 2010-11 and 2014-15 88% Median proportion of users with personal budgets per local authority in 2014-15 22% Median proportion of users with direct payments per local authority in 2014-15 84% Proportion of local authority directors of adult social services who report that increasing personalisation is a high (43%) or medium (41%) priority area for savings in 2016-17 £0 Amount that the Department of Health expects to save from personalisation 26% Proportion of long-term social care users who said it was difficult to find information about support in 2014-15  
  1. Social care comprises personal care and practical support for adults who cannot perform the activities of typical daily living, and support for their carers. Social care paid for by English local authorities makes up a minority of the total amount of care. The Department of Health is responsible for setting national policy and the legal framework for adult social care, securing funding and providing leadership.
  2. In 2007, the government introduced the concept of a personal budget: a sum of money allocated to an adult to meet their assessed social care needs. A personal budget can be managed by the local authority or by a third party that commissions services for users; or it can be given to users or their carers as a direct payment. Commissioning social care services through personal budgets and direct payments, is an important way of giving care users more choice and control over their services.
  3. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website. Hard copies can be obtained by using the relevant links on our website.
  4. The National Audit Office scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Sir Amyas Morse KCB, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 810 people. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy. Our studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. Our recommendations and reports on good practice help government improve public services, and our work led to audited savings of £1.15 billion in 2014.

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