Pooling personal budgets: another way to make personalisation real

In September I blogged about the project In Control carried out in the north-west of England earlier this year -twenty nine ways of making personalisation real.  I'm now going to add number thirty to the list, that is the pooling of personal budgets, an approach to choice and control that has not had the attention it warrants and whose time has now come.

What do we mean by pooling in this context?  At its simplest it is a  process where people decide to bring together their resources - including their money, often some of the money in their personal budgets, but also their skills, passions and other 'assets' (what we often refer to as their 'real wealth') -  for something they want to do as a group. People do this for a wide variety of reasons, but in some shape or form, all who go down this road do it because they value the company of others, often particularly those they regard either as their 'peers' or those with whom they have particular shared interests.   The needs for companionship, friendship and the support of our peers are common to us all and the sharing of our resources in sports clubs, faith groups, political organisations, community associations and so on is normal in all communities.  The pooling of personal budgets and of other aspects of 'real wealth' is just a particular instance of this, one which brings its own challenges of course, (see below) but in many ways it is simply one manifestation of community life.

The organisation RUILS, the Richmond Users of Independent Living Scheme, has done a great deal to help local groups in west London to set up pooled arrangements and to describe some of the challenges and solutions.   A couple of years ago it produced a pooling guide that is particularly helpful for organisations that are uncertain about the mechanics pooling or how to go about it. RUILS is happy to try and answer queries about pooled budgets and can be contacted via the link above or on 020 8831 6083/4.

Groups that have already set up pooled arrangements include:

  • Stepping on Out, a group of people with learning disabilities from Richmond Adult and Community College set up a non-profit organisation, making and selling cards.
  • The Wings group, people with mental health needs from Worcestershire put their money together to form a social club.
  • The Out and About Consortium, a group of friends with learning disabilities from Richmond, put money from their personal budgets into a pool to employ personal assistants to support them to do a variety of fun and exciting things in their local community.

RUILS highlights a lengthy list of practical considerations for groups considering going down this road.  Some of the early questions often concern the ways in which  someone who wants to do so can safely and successfully join up with others in similar situations to their own: are the others they identify the right people; do they genuinely share the same interests; will they be able to pay their way; will they stick with it?  In some of these situations there may be an important role for local authority commissioners or social workers or for third sector organisations in making suggestions to bring people together to 'broker' meetings, and perhaps to make sure that the people involved are making a good connection and that everyone involved is safe and happy. In other instances there may be an already existing group and the early questions then are not so much about who as what and how: what exactly will the money be used for (paying for venues or transport, employing staff, purchasing equipment or what); and how does the group deploy its skills and resources to organise these things?   In particular there will of course need to be discussions about how much money each person contributes; how that money is looked after; how the group is assured that everyone is fully involved in decision-making and that all remain content as things progress; and discussions about how different people take on different roles and responsibilities with no-one feeling either excluded or overly burdened.  All of the usual things about running a joint venture of any kind in fact.

There are particular additional practical issues when it comes to pooling personal budgets: normally the outcomes concerned must be registered in each person's support plan and these support plans must be signed off by the local authority. Is a pooled arrangement the best way of achieving the agreed outcomes?  Is it a good use of money?  Thought needs to be given to opening a bank account, the group needs to decide whether to go for a joint account; or for a sole account for one member who is trusted by all (simpler but less secure); if it's a joint account they need to decide who the signatories are, is there a need to set up direct debits or standing orders; do they require help with the books and so on; depending on the composition of the group there may be issues also about powers of attorney or best interest decisions; and if the group is planning on using the money to employ support staff, about tax and insurance.

It's also critically important that there are proper safeguards in place to ensure that people really are freely choosing a particular pooling arrangement and not giving into any form of pressure (whether that comes from families, peers, staff or anyone else) to 'join in.' The last thing we want is to re-create the worst aspects of some of the old services, and what we are most definitely not advocating here is that personal budget figures are set at lower levels on the basis that people are expected to pool resources. We also need to be confident that there are strong arrangements to check with people that they really are getting the outcomes they want and need as the pooled arrangement develops and things evolve over time: proper 'review' remains an indispensable building block of any genuinely personalised system and people must not be prevented from opting out of a pool at any point in the process.

In October 2012, RUILS organised a seminar at the Scope offices in north London to look at the future of pooled budgets. One of the many interesting discussions in the course of this day was about some of the exciting business ventures or microenterprises people have launched in various sectors and in various parts of the country, which use 'capital' from pooled personal budgets.  These ventures clearly extend the scope and reach of pooling arrangements and open new doors for individuals to find their own way to make a contribution to society and in some instances to make money.   There were also helpful discussions of tax issues, led by a representative of HMRC; on employment law from Peninsula Business Services; and on insurance from Fish Insurance. The HMRC representative addressed a number of concerns, including 'who is the (PAYE responsible) employer' in a joint venture. Fish Insurance made the point that for insurance purposes there needs to be certain absolute rules and responsibilities so that it is clear who is responsible (liable) for what. In fact the importance of a very clear and comprehensive pooling agreement (sometimes called a consortium agreement or a group agreement), setting out what is intended by the pooling arrangement, how it will work, who will do what, and what the checks and balances in place are, was a recurring theme at the seminar.

The pooling of personal budgets is an idea whose time has come.  Days of austerity and the closures of many traditional services, where people used to meet their friends and socialise, have pushed pooling to the front of the queue as something people in many places now really need. We must get pooling publicised and on agendas as  a real viable option, that is we must 'develop the marketplace'and assist local user led organisations, brokers and perhaps also traditional service providers, to see that they have important roles in developing and supporting pooled arrangements. The fact that there are readily available solutions to some of the practical challenges also needs highlighting.  And staff and managers in all parts of health, social care and mainstream services, including commissioners in local authorities and in clinical commissioning groups, need now to start taking pooling seriously, and work to set up systems that encourage its development and make it a viable option available to all.

Andrew Tyson


In Control

Leave Comment

Last Updated : 18 December 2012. Page Author: Pam Schreier.