Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC) jointly hosted a webinar with PCG Technology Solutions (PCG) and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) this month to share how it is using Virtual Wallet and the benefits it has seen to date.
The benefits shared include an expected 40% saving on the contract BCC held with an external brokerage organisation who were previously commissioned to provide its direct payment management service.
Virtual Wallet is an innovative software and a managed service solution developed by PCG to support local authorities to deliver direct payments more effectively and efficiently.
With Virtual Wallet, PCG holds the funds on behalf of direct payment recipients in a client bank account. Either direct payment recipients themselves, the local authority, or appointed third party, then have access to a ‘virtual’ budget so they can choose, order and commission care and support as required with PCG processing all payments. The software provided enables robust financial monitoring and complete transparency for all parties on budget spend. It also enables individuals to continue to have choice and control over commissioned care, without the hassle of having to make payments themselves.
In Buckinghamshire, the council made the move to Virtual Wallet in April this year. Previously around 900 individuals had their budgets managed by an external brokerage organisation. However when this service was moved in-house, BCC decided to use Virtual Wallet to help them manage these budgets.
The two main drivers for moving to Virtual Wallet were to deliver cost savings and to provide transparency on direct payment spend.
“Virtual Wallet provides simplicity, standardisation, transparency, user empowerment, social worker oversight, provider accountability, provider transaction benefits – and council assurance. It’s a win-win all round,” explains Dan Hussey, Digital Business Manager for Adult Social Care at Buckinghamshire County Council.
Since implementing Virtual Wallet, 1,100 accounts have been set up. BCC is now in the process of starting to expand Virtual Wallet and offering the option for customers currently receiving a direct payment into their bank account - and a small number of customers who are on prepaid cards - to move to Virtual Wallet.
Dan Hussey believes Virtual Wallet is an attractive option and will help empower people to take up direct payments: “Many people want the benefits of having a direct payment - that is to be able to decide how their care is delivered and by who – but they don’t want the burden and responsibility of managing payments to providers. From a client’s perspective with Virtual Wallet they still retain control of their budget and have flexibility on how it’s spent but they don’t have to worry about paying providers.”
Virtual Wallet can be used to support all types of care packages including complex care plans that combine live-in support with agency support, personal assistants, payroll, insurance and workplace pensions and client contributions or top-ups.
While a full evaluation of the impact of Virtual Wallet has yet to take place, BCC is already seeing many benefits, including:
- Full audit trail – clients and BCC can see detailed transactions on the account including what has been spent, with who, and what is due.
- Protection from debt – the system prevents clients from overspending and will alert BCC if a provider puts their rates up.
- Protection from fraudulent activities
- No paperwork – clients and families no longer need to collect receipts and submit returns.
- Regular and reliable payments for providers – an easy process for all involved and significantly reduces care management workload by not having to deal with debt issues.
- Resilience – in emergencies (adverse weather, provider failure etc) BCC has access to detailed information about who is providing care so a back-up plan can be put in place
- Direct payment plan – all information about the direct payment will be in one place which will make gathering information for reviews much easier.
- Safe and secure – it’s a tried and tested system built for managing care services.
Virtual Wallet is a highly flexible and configurable solution, demonstrated by the fact that it is being used in a number of areas in a variety of different ways. This includes delivery of Individual Service Funds (ISFs) and personal grants for Short Breaks in children’s services. PCG is also working with welfare to work specialists Kennedy Scott supporting the first pilot of its kind where people seeking employment are given a virtual personal budget to help support them to gain employment.
David Bowes, director at PCG, comments further: “There has been significant interest in Virtual Wallet highlighting the real need to provide ‘a better way’ to administer direct payments which doesn’t compromise an individual’s right to have choice and control over their budget.
“Virtual Wallet is a key area of focus for PCG and we have been working closely with clients to provide a wealth of additional functionality and benefits that go way beyond that of financial reporting. For example, we are working with Buckinghamshire County Council to develop tools to assist people to better manage their personal assistants, as well ring-fencing spend on different budget streams, such as respite and health funding.”
For further information about PCG’s Virtual Wallet solution, or for access to the recording and slides from the webinar with Buckinghamshire County Council, please get in touch.