Simon DuffyNew advice to help councils and support providers meet Care Act 2014 guidance on Individual Service Funds (ISFs) has been launched. 

ISFs help people with care needs to have flexible, personalised support, tailored to individual preferences without having to manage cash direct payments. This means people and families can choose to live in their own homes, with their own support and using their own budgets, while the councils that commission those services work differently with community organisations and providers of services to improve outcomes for people they serve and reduce costs. ISFs also work well in residential care settings and have been used as a model for improving the flexibility of homecare delivery.

The Guide, Individual Service Funds (ISFs) and Contracting for Flexible Support, is aimed at council commissioners and providers, and sets out how councils can contract flexibly with a service provider to meet a person’s needs, and in a way that gives the person more control over their own support. It means the service provider can have the highest possible degree of flexibility to work with the person to identify the best support to meet their needs and advance their wellbeing.

Uptake of ISFs has been fairly limited to date, but the guide recommends they should be the default option when a person does not want or is not able to manage a cash direct payment. The guide also recommends that councils contract with providers of services in a way that enables them to be more accountable to people who use services and more responsive to their needs.  

Transforming health and care through personalisation partnership Think Local Act Personal (TLAP) co-chair and member of the National Coproduction Advisory Group, Clenton Farquharson, welcomed the guide: “Many people who use care services don’t want rigid support, they want to be able to react quickly to whatever might be happening in their life at that moment,” he said. “So many people can benefit from this way of working – families, people with learning disabilities, mental health problems and people with dementia – but too few do. That’s got to change.”

United Kingdom Home Care Association chief executive and TLAP board lead for self-directed support, Bridget Warr, added: “This helpful guide encourages commissioners and providers to ensure they are available and effective in helping people obtain the support they need to live at home. The close working relationship developed directly between the individual and the provider means that the service is tailored closely to the person’s needs, preferences and aspirations and the resource allocated is deployed most effectively. I hope this report will play a significant part in encouraging all concerned to put the option of an Individual Service Fund up the priority list; it would be the choice for many people.”

Guide author Dr Simon Duffy (pictured), from the Centre for Welfare Reform, said: "The drive towards personalisation has benefited many, but often the focus has been limited only to those who want to take direct payments and who choose to take complete control of their own support. Many people would benefit from much more flexible support, from an organisation that they’ve chosen. This is an option which is attractive, efficient and very effective - but far too few people are offered this option. Moreover, if this were available then it could end the use of block procurement and tendering for social care. People who need social care are all individuals, with rights; they should not be swept up in bureaucratic contractual changes."

Alicia Wood, chief executive of the Housing & Support Alliance added: “Direct payments and personal budgets have been a major factor in enabling people with learning disabilities to get the support they need to live in their own homes and make real choices about where they live and who they live with. What we are also seeing through our membership and advice service are the people and families that want real choice and control but cannot take on the work involved with creating a bespoke package of support. We think that ISFs can provide a sound framework for people who need support and their families to come together with commissioners and providers to create what people really want.”

Individual Service Funds (ISFs) and Contracting for Flexible Support can be downloaded here