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Q&A Session: Short Breaks and Direct Payments

Q&A Session: Short Breaks and Direct Payments

We were delighted to welcome Mark Page from the SEND department at Plymouth City Council to our Coffee & Cake meeting on Wednesday 13th October. Mark works in the department responsible for Short Breaks and joined us to answer questions about Direct Payments. Listed below are the answers to the questions that were asked during the session.

Q1. What are direct payments?
Direct payments are a way of funding short breaks for a child with a disability. They cover children aged 0 – 18 years. 

Q2. What are the criteria for receiving direct payments?
To be eligible for a direct payment, an individual/family must be assessed under The Children’s Act 1989 as needing a service. An assessment of need will take place by someone in the Short Breaks department OR a social worker.

The primary criteria is that a child is deemed to be a disabled child. A direct payment can be made to people with parental responsibility for a disabled child. Some disabled children aged 16-17 may also be able to receive payments. In exceptional circumstances, direct payments can be made to young carers over the age of 16.

Q3. Where are the up-to-date criteria stated?
The current criteria are stated in the Direct Payments Procedure and Guidance published by Plymouth City Council (updated December 2020). If you would like to view the whole document, PPCV will gladly send it to you. (When it is available online, we will post the link here.)

 Q4. How do you organise an assessment for direct payments?
If your child is attending a special school, speak to the Parent/Family Support person or SENDCO and they can put in a referral with Plymouth City Council. 

Alternatively, you can put in a referral request through Gateway. Email gateway@plymouth.gov.uk or call 01752 668000.

Q5. Given that many activities are still not up and running due to Covid-19, are Plymouth City Council going to consider being flexible with the payments?
We agree that Covid-19 has been particularly horrendous for disabled children and their families.

Direct payments are flexible. They work by creating a ‘virtual’ account for each child into which funds are paid. 

It is up to the parents/carers to choose who works with their child, where they want to go (so they are not constrained by an agency) and when they want to use available services.

In some cases, the money in the virtual account isn’t used and there can be a build-up of funds held. PCC allow ten times the weekly amount to build up, then they would be looking to reclaim some funds. Please be reassured that this would not be done without speaking to you first, as they understand that there may be many reasons as to why this has happened. They also understand that you may have to pay wages or insurance from this fund, so please don’t panic – just talk to them.

The reason for reclaiming money in the case of a build-up is due to the fact that the money is from public funds; the local authority is responsible for managing it on behalf of council tax payers. It is important to re-iterate that money will not be reclaimed without discussions with you first.

Q6. Do you have a list of people qualified and trained to get to know our child (initially with us present) and then to progress with taking him out on their own? 

Can we use direct payments to facilitate this?

With direct payments, as the parent/carer, you become the employer. You can choose someone you trust and who works well with your family/circumstances. There is no problem at all with using direct payments for someone to come to your home to meet your child/family with you present. Everyone in the team wants what is best for your child and for that package to work.

You could choose to use an agency. There are agencies available that would normally be able to offer qualified and trained PAs to work with your child, however, there is a distinct lack of staffing at the moment.

The LA does not keep a list as they need to remain impartial. Therefore, it is recommended that you contact Enham Trust. Alternatively, contact Mark Page or Claire Anderson in the Short Breaks team at SEND5252@plymouth.gov.uk.

Q7. At the moment my child’s allowance isn’t being used because we are trying to get suitable support in place. Will their allowance be cut?
No. Your child has been assessed and the allowance is based on your child’s short-break needs assessment. 

You may find that the money in your child’s virtual account isn’t being used and there can be a build-up of funds held. In this case, the team will contact you to discuss options to fulfil the short breaks need. (Please refer to Q5 regarding the build-up of more than 10 weeks of funding.) Please be reassured that no money would be reclaimed without speaking to you first.

Q8. Does the LA keep a list of PAs we could employ?
The LA does not keep a list as they need to remain impartial, however, they can point you in the right direction to help you find someone.

You could contact Enham Trust who advertise on the Plymouth Online Directory.

You could also place your own advert for the particular support you require. You would have to interview candidates to check they were suitable for your child and family. The LA can provide funding for an enhanced DBS check.

Another option is to advertise in local special schools; sometimes TAs may be available to work for you.

Remember – direct payments put you, the parent, in charge. You are the employer of the person who is supporting your child. If you are not happy with them, you may give them notice to leave – it is always your choice.

Q9. Do PCC provide respite care? From what age is that available? And do you need additional funding for it?
Assuming this refers to overnight short breaks in terms of respite care, yes. A single assessment from a social worker is required. 

A new referral request can be made through Gateway. Email gateway@plymouth.gov.uk or call 01752 668000. 

If you have an existing Short Breaks package, please contact Mark Page or Claire Anderson at SEND5252@plymouth.gov.uk or 01752 305252

There is no age limit as it all depends upon the needs of the child. Typically, an overnight short break is not recommended for a child under the age of 5 years (although there are sometimes exceptional circumstances where that is provided).

There is no additional funding required from parents – it is the LAs responsibility.

Q10. Can direct payments be used for activities my child does or are they just to be used for the carer/PA?
It will depend on your child’s individual assessment of need. Usually, parents pay for the activities and the direct payment is used to pay the carer/PA.

However, it is useful to know that there are activities available across Plymouth specifically designed for disabled children which are accessible at reduced costs/numbers and higher staff ratios. Examples include Horizons Sailing, Funky Llama and Plymouth Argyle. The PIAS newsletter contains many of the activities (so it is worth signing up to their mailing list to receive it).

Q11. Do you provide transport for short breaks?
We can carry out a needs assessment for children who have a Specialist Short Breaks package from the Local Authority. Please contact Mark Page or Claire Anderson on SEND5252@plymouth.gov.uk or 01752 305252 to discuss.

Q12. Can my 19-year-old child access direct payments?
You will need to contact adult social care, as short break direct payments are only available up to the age of 18 years. 

If you have any further queries relating to direct payments or need further clarification for the questions raised, please do not hesitate to contact Mark Page or Claire Anderson at SEND5252@plymouth.gov.uk or 01752 305252.

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on Pexels.

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