Essex County Council adult care budget 'serious problem'

An internal report has found "major" concerns with the way millions of pounds from the adult social care budget in Essex is being monitored.

A county council audit looked into personal budgets where about £30m was paid directly to elderly and disabled people.

The money is used for things such as paying carers or buying equipment.

In 15% of cases, the signed agreements between the council and recipients could not be found.

Figures show 8,792 people in Essex received personal budgets and, of these, 2,941 had a share of about £30m paid directly into a bank account.

Up to 400 of these direct-payment agreements could not be found.

'Improving'
Barry O'Connell

Start Quote

Essex County Council pays the money directly into a bank account. It's really empowering. It's like being a chef and being able to go out and buy the ingredients yourself rather than someone putting a box in front of you and half of the ingredients not being there. You can imagine the difference in how you feel. It's like 'wow, I'm in control'”

End Quote Barry O'Connell, direct payment recipient from Little Clacton

Theresa Higgins, an opposition Liberal Democrat councillor at Essex County Council, said: "This is a serious problem, because it's taxpayers' money.

"It's important the monitoring is put in place, and the proof of the pudding will be when we get the next report."

John Aldridge, the Conservative cabinet member for adult social, said the situation was improving.

"I think we've made tremendous strides and made major in-roads into these outstanding issues," he said.

"Contracts have been delivered to all the individuals, and they've even been revised to take account of the recommendations of the audit committee and the scrutiny board.

"That will all be completed by the end of this month, and I hope all the monitoring of those outstanding issues is up to scratch by the end of September."

'Lack of documentation

Meanwhile, money that had been over-paid by the council, or misspent by service users, was not being recovered.

The report also found problems with how council staff are monitoring the way money is spent.

In many cases staff were keeping records incorrectly and auditors found that their work was not being reviewed by managers.

Similar problems were identified by an earlier audit in June 2011, which has been seen by the BBC.

It found there was a lack of any documentation to show that financial monitoring had been carried out by council staff.

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