Council approves updated charging policy for social work

Scottish Borders Council headquarters.
Scottish Borders Council headquarters.

Scottish Borders Council (SBC) has approved an updated charging policy for all residential and non-residential social work services to take effect from 1 April 2015.

The updated policy is the result of a review of the existing Social Work charging policy that was commissioned by elected members in February this year. The review was required due to a number of significant changes in legislation, guidance and changes in service provision, including the introduction of Self Directed Support (SDS) which is due to be fully implemented by January 2017.

The review was undertaken throughout 2014 and was taken forward in consultation with service users, families and carers, stakeholder organisations and staff. The consultation process included 12 co-production meetings, held with service users, carers and voluntary groups across the Borders, and a survey which resulted in 300 responses.

From the feedback received, it was clear that service users and carers valued the services provided and understood the need for charging in order to protect services. They agreed that equity, fairness and balancing the contributions across care groups was important and that assessing how much someone can afford to pay is fairer than flat rate charges.

Direct Debits were seen as the preferred way of paying for services although requests were made to make the invoicing and charging process smoother. Work to improve this process is ongoing along with a commitment to ensuring that communications with service users are sensitive, in plain English and accessible to all.

Councillor Frances Renton, SBC’s Executive Member for Social Work and Housing said: “Whilst it is always a difficult decision to increase charges it is important in this financial climate that income is maximised to ensure that services remain sustainable but affordable. The care and attention with which this review has been conducted is to be commended, particularly the way in which service users, carers and key stakeholders have been engaged with the process. The outcome is a much fairer system based on solid principles of equity, transparency and consistency, in line with national guidance.”

Between April 2015 and January 2017 all service users will move over to a system where they will pay a contribution toward the services they receive based on what they can afford to pay. This contribution will be worked out following a financial assessment.

An interim position will be implemented to cover the period while the new policy is being phased in. This will take effect as of 1 April 2015 and contains a number of changes, the most important of these being:

>Day Care will be charged on placement rather than attendance and the flat rate charge will rise from £2 per day to £3.

>The Taper Rate will rise from 43.5 percent to 55 percent. This is the percentage of residual income used in the financial assessment process to calculate how much someone can afford to pay for their services.

>Based on 2014/15 benefit rates, a flat rate charge of £27.60 per week, or £55.20 per week for people with capital over £26,000, will be introduced for people in Housing with Care tenancies. The charges and capital limit are based on national benefit rates and may be increased from April 2015.

>An ordering charge of £10 and a fitting and annual maintenance charge of £25 will be introduced for the provision of equipment.

>A £10 weekly administration and transport charge for night support services will be introduced.

Additionally, in the interests of equity and fairness, Intermediate Care and Re-ablement will be free for the first six weeks regardless of whether the individual has been discharged from hospital or not. After six weeks, charges will be in line with respite and homecare charges.

The following increases are also being made as of 1 April 2015. These will remain as flat rate charges after 1 January 2017.

>Bordercare Alarm weekly rate will increase from £2.50 to £3 per week.

>The true cost of meals will be charged. A charge for equipment rentals at 50p per week per microwave and 50p per week per freezer will be introduced.

>Transport charges will rise from £1 per return journey to £2 per return journey.

>Housing with Care and 24 Hour Housing Support will also remain as flat rate charges.