12th December 2022
National Association of Financial Assessment Officers (NAFAO) and Civica respond to the chancellor’s decision to delay Adult Social Care (ASC) charging reform for two years and define the steps local authorities should take now to address current challenges.
While the delay might be seen by many as a relief given the expected increase in demand, it offers an opportunity to get on top of workload and make changes that will improve service delivery.
One NAFAO member commented, “It’s fair to say local authorities have had a near miss on what was shaping up to be a perfect storm. A crisis may have been averted, but there are still challenges we all need to address to ensure we can support an ageing population.”
Together, NAFAO and Civica identified five challenges local authorities face right now, and recommendations to address them.
Five challenges for local authorities:
1. Increasing demand and enquiries for care funding
Even though the reform has been delayed, local authorities are still facing backlogs and delays in financial assessments due to ever-increasing workloads. Further cuts in departmental funding are expected in the coming years, as the Government looks to make painful decisions to balance its spending.
2. Finding the right people
NAFAO members point out that there is a shortage of experienced financial assessment officers available to manage the increased workload, and that they can be hard to hire because, generally, they’re already employed at other councils. So, local authorities need to be able to train recruits or use a specialist outsourced service to plug resource gaps.
3. Maximising income
Faced with increasing budget challenges, councils need to maximise income wherever possible. In respect of ASC, this means establishing a proactive approach to debt recovery to maximise collecting contributions. They need to ensure direct payment funds are appropriately spent and reclaim where they aren’t. Financial assessments must capture changes in customer circumstance so that increases in contributions are invoiced sooner rather than later.
4. Fit-for-purpose IT
As one NAFAO member said: “Many local authority IT systems need to be updated. Some authorities may also lack the financial assessment IT capability to support their current systems.” The message from NAFAO members is for IT vendor systems to be organised, streamlined, and able to ensure citizens’ information is “portable” between local authorities. Automation is seen as crucial to keeping workloads manageable.
5. Reviewing caseloads
Carrying out annual reviews for all service users, of Non-Residential and Residential care, is essential to maintain accuracy while generating much-needed revenue. Despite having access to Department for Works and Pensions tools, NAFAO members say they struggle with the capacity to contact clients, or their representatives, given the shortage of experienced officers – finding it difficult to ensure reviews are undertaken regularly.
The NAFAO members who contributed to this article suggested that, despite the reform delay, local authorities still need additional staff to manage current volumes of work and resilience to deal with busy periods. Specific actions they recommend include:
- Review your current resources and skills, identify gaps and how to fill them
- Identify opportunities to find appropriately skilled officers to clear existing backlogs
- Focus on debt recovery to maximise income
- Assess your technology – does it have the appropriate levels of automation to help manage workloads?
- Keeping on top of annual reviews ensures the accuracy of assessments whilst reducing your contribution to care.
Civica provides resilience resource to support the delivery of your ASC service remotely. Available on demand, skilled and experienced ASC financial assessors help you maintain service levels, manage reviews and support debt recovery. Let’s talk about how we can help you.
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