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By Nick Golding...
By Nick Golding

Councils could save money on individual care packages by giving users more control over their social care services, according to the first results of a major pilot project.

Individual budgets for care services have been piloted in 13 councils. They see government money passed onto individual services users or their families, so they can purchase the care which best suits their needs.

The white paper foresees the system being implemented nationwide.

One of the pilots testing the budgets has found service users have opted for less expensive care than before they used the system. West Sussex CC social workers helped 15 older people whose care packages cost an average of£70,000 annually to choose the care which best served their needs.

'When we spent two or three months talking to the individual and their family we found that people elected to do things that aren't expensive - they want to join the local bowls club or they go down the pub a few evenings a week,' said John Dixon, the council's director for social and caring services.

Many users were able to pay family, neighbours and friends for their care, ensuring they have carers they trust and boosting their social lives.

He added: 'Everyone is terrified that individual budgets will result in a huge increase in costs but I think we can categorically say that's not the case.'

The council now plans to extend the service to people with learning difficulties, but Mr Dixon warns it can only be brought in where family members have the enthusiasm to devise a care package.

Under individual budgets, all income schemes from councils and other agencies are joined up and spent as users or their families require. Some users are offered advocacy or brokering services to enable them to

make use of the system.

Jo Williams, the chief executive of Mencap, which has worked on several pilots, said:

'Users feel that they were empowered and that they can take control of their lives. If you transfer resources to the individual that gives them an opportunity to have a better quality of life.'

It is hoped individual budgets will be implemented nationally by 2009 and the pilot schemes extending the principle to children's services will be set up this summer.

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