The overall impact of personal budgets on the cost to councils of service provision has not been evaluated, finance watchdogs have warned.
The National Audit Office said that more work was also needed to extend choice for service users and protect self funders from falling back on the state before the programme was rolled out to all eligible users by 2013.
In new report, Oversight of User Choice and Provider Competition in Care Markets – see file at right – the spending watchdog says that while personal budget holders reported improved wellbeing, a small minority said they felt worse off under the new arrangements.
The NAO said that while some authorities reported better use of resources and there were good examples of service user innovation – such as pooling funds to pay for personal assistants, there had been no overall evaluation of the impact of the programme.
It also voiced concern that some 60% of English councils did not know how many of their residents funded their own care.
NAO head Amyas Morse called on ministers to ensure that the social care sector was properly monitored and that contingency plans to deal with future failures on the scale of the Southern Cross crisis were in place.
He said: “As the population ages and more pressure is put on social care, the department must ensure that its oversight of the care market is robust, that people have access to the information and support that they need and that it has arrangements in place in the event of large providers getting into financial difficulty.”
In particular, the NAO called for:
- The Department of Health to find ways of encouraging councils to provide good quality financial advice to self funders, or else better direct them to where such advice can be found.
- Minsiters to develop a system for dealing with provider failure in the care sector.