Adult social care funding is crucial to caring for our communities
By Gary Bell, Executive Director, Managed Services
It’s widely agreed that the funding for adult social care (ASC), and of course, wider social care is in urgent need of reform. Local authorities currently spend a staggering £17.5 billion funding social care. In fact, according to the National Audit Office social care spending (including children’s social care) was 54.4% of overall service spend by local authorities in 2016-17, up from 45.3% in 2010-11. However, while spend is increasing, so is demand due to an ageing population and years of underfunding, presenting local authorities with huge challenges both financially and in resourcing.
The rise in demand for adult social care
There were over 1.8 million new requests to local councils for adult social care in 2016/17. This is equivalent to almost 5,000 requests for support received every single day, with many requesting a financial assessment. Getting through close to two million additional requests is no mean feat and local authorities are struggling to recruit experienced personnel quick enough to meet these rising pressures.
This is an issue that North Lincolnshire Council faced. In 2016, the council was struggling to keep on top of its ASC financial assessments due to resourcing challenges driven by a combination of sickness, holidays and the departure of key individuals. It reached the point where the delay in completing financial assessments increased to over 12 weeks, meaning the council wasn’t able to charge service users and bring in revenue for over three months.
It’s clear there are real challenges for assessors around collection, especially when working with vulnerable service users in our communities.
Unsurprisingly, service users were also unhappy about the length of time they were waiting for financial assessments to be completed. Recruiting experienced people was proving to be difficult and to recruit those without the experience and then train them would only add to the backlog, so the council formed a partnership with Civica’s On Demand team to provide financial assessment support to reduce the increasing backlogs. The Civica team were up and running within two weeks and with a dedicated team supporting the council, the build-up was eliminated within nine weeks, with over 400 financial assessments being completed in that timeframe.
Efficient systems and people vital to financial assessments
But North Lincolnshire Council is not alone. Recent research conducted by Civica and the National Association of Financial Assessment Officers (NAFAO) found that 43% of local councils who responded to the survey are finding it difficult to administer financial assessments within as timely a manner as they would like. Much of this could be due to the fact that 45% of responders say they don’t have an integrated workflow or document management system. However, these are integral to meeting rising demands as workflow systems speed up internal processes by reducing manual entry and request handling. In turn, this reduces errors and re-work and improves compliance through enabling precise audit trails. 30% of responders stated they need a new financial assessment system in place to meet demand and help meet the challenges they face.
We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of effectively managing ASC financial assessments. With our survey finding that a quarter of local authorities that responded are writing off more than £100,000 of outstanding debtor contributions every year, it’s clear there are real challenges for assessors around collection, especially when working with vulnerable service users in our communities.
However, access to the right support and integrated work-flow systems to help local councils administer financial assessments effectively, will allow organisations to free up both time and resources to focus better on debt recovery in the future.
The struggle to recruit skilled employees within the public sector is nothing new. The research found that 45% of local authorities struggle to recruit adult social care assessors due to lack of funding, knowledge of where to recruit and lack of experience within the local area. This is why many local councils, like North Lincolnshire, work with external experts who have the experience and knowledge needed to deliver ASC financial assessments. What’s more, working with skilled, external financial assessors can be cost neutral for many, as backlogs can be quickly eliminated, and turnaround times improved, allowing councils to start collecting contributors more quickly, reducing potential write offs.
While it’s difficult to know exactly how many people actually need long or short-term care now and in the future, local councils need to be prepared to ensure ASC financial assessments are carried out in a timely and efficient manner. With over two thirds (67%) of local councils being asked to further reduce budget and find extra savings, accurate and timely financial assessments are crucial. By getting their financial assessments in order, councils can not only improve service delivery and the lives of citizens but also save much-needed money in the long-term.