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Wednesday 17 February 2010

Empower Card –

Caption from L to R
Martin Polak - Boston Marks, Jonathan Nixon - Citi, Stuart Hall, Cllr Roland Domleo - Cabinet Member for Adult Services, Jackie Alexander and Wynn Spencer - Manager for Social Care Redesign Cheshire East Council.

Giving People Power to Lead Independent Lives

A unique debit card – the first of its kind in the country – that will enable older people and those with disabilities to lead more independent lives, has been launched during a prestigious event organised by Cheshire East Council.

The Empower Card is a unique pre-loaded VISA card for individuals across Cheshire East who receive a personal budget for the costs of their social care. Up until now, the money was paid as cash in to a bank account, but now people can opt to have the money loaded on to the Empower debit card. This was revealed exclusively to the press and public during the Unlocking the Future exhibition at Wychwood Park Hotel, near Crewe.

Broadcaster, Stuart Hall, one of Cheshire East’s most well-known residents who recently turned 80 years old, officially opened the exhibition and showed his support for the revolutionary Empower Card.

Unlocking the Future exhibition was a public exhibition providing a one-stop shop for anyone involved in sourcing or delivering adult services in the public sector. Over 100 company representatives were under the same roof to demonstrate their services and products – the Empower Card being one of the highlights. Services on show included mobility aids, vehicles, care services and voluntary organisations.

So, who will use the Empower Card? Any adult who opts for a personal budget from Cheshire East Council to pay for their social care. For example, Victoria, 20, lives at home with her parents and has physical and emotional problems.

Victoria’s mum, Jackie, will be the very first carer to receive the Empower Card so that Victoria can have her personal budget loaded onto the card. Under the old system, Victoria would have had her money paid into a bank account. The Empower Card will allow Jackie a very convenient way to pay for three staff (around the same age as her daughter) as personal assistants to Victoria.

The Empower Card will help Jackie to manage Victoria’s personal budget much more efficiently and make life easier. For example the card will enable her to pay the staff she employs to look after Vicky speedily by direct transfer rather than issue a cheque, pay directly for some of her activities such as horse riding over the internet or by telephone and purchase items for Vicky using the card. She will no longer have to manage as much paperwork as all the card’s transactions are logged via her monthly statement and her Care Manager will be able to oversee her budget much more efficiently.

So, how does the Empower Card work? For someone receiving a personal budget Social Services work out how much that budget will be, and if it is appropriate and requested, the amount is credited to the Empower Card on a regular basis. Cheshire East Council can monitor the debits and credits to the Empower Card and ensure the system is being used to maximise benefits for the individual.

So, how does it differ from the old scheme? Before personal budgets were available, social care packages for individuals like Victoria were assessed and an offer was made of a standard service list of service provisions, such as access to Council Day Centres. However with personal budgets many more options are available such as employing a personal assistant and taking a taxi to go to the theatre, shopping or the library.

So, why is the system changing? The number of older people in Cheshire East is rising dramatically. This is set to put an enormous pressure on social care services. By 2021 the number of people aged over 85 years-old will have risen by 45 per cent. Those aged 65 – 84 will have risen by almost a third.

Under the Government’s “Putting People First Transformation Programme” all English councils should be offering personal budgets by April this year, and Cheshire East Council is leading the way with almost 1,200 residents currently receiving a personal budget. The Empower Card is an innovative new initiative that will speed up the usage of personal budgets and streamline administration, but will not be compulsory for people receiving a personal budget.

Councillor Roland Domleo, Cabinet member for adult services, said: “The new Empower Card will make it much easier for those already on a personal budget, and those about to receive one, to manage their money in the most convenient way.

“Personal budgets have been around for 10 years but now everyone will be offered one, although they don’t have to take up the offer. The Empower card will make personal budgets even more attractive.

“It is all part of the push by Cheshire East Council to improve the quality of life for all of our residents by giving them choice, access and control.”

Martin Polak, director of Cheshire-based Boston Marks, the company behind the development of the Empower Card in partnership with Cheshire East Council and Citi, said: “The card truly marks a significant step forward for local authorities, empowering those in receipt of self-directed support to make decisions that will directly affect their daily lives in a positive way.

“It is the first technology initiative of its type anywhere in the country and is testament to Cheshire East’s desire to use the best combined payment and technology solution currently available.

“The Empower Card is totally auditable, ensuring best value is received. People in receipt of personal budgets will now be able to plan and manage their own spend on daily items, which in many cases will represent complete freedom and empowerment to run their own financial affairs, in ways which were never dreamed possible before.”

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