Support brokers can help older people to make the most of their budget for support. But how do they work and why should one be used? Robert Mair reports.
In this article:
- What is a support broker?
- The role of support brokers
- Who are support brokers?
- Who can use support brokers?
- What can support brokers assist with?
- How long do brokers stay involved for?
- Getting the most out of the service
- Striking a balance
- How to access support brokers
What is a support broker?
In general, a support broker is someone who assists people with their personal budget to find out what services they need and helping them to find the most suitable provider(s). Support brokers can be provided by a local authority or from an independent organisation.
However, the broker’s role can vary depending on their contract with the individual; some brokers are far more involved than others. For example, in some local authorities, brokers will never meet the client, and plan the care package for the individual based on reports presented to them.
The role of support brokers
The role of a support broker is to help someone to become independent, and although they may source a different care package to them, they should ensure the individual makes the choices.
Brokers only assist in areas in which they are requested to help, and should balance the individual’s needs with providing value for money.
Some support brokers may provide advocacy as part of the service – although this should be stipulated in the contract between the individual and the broker if this is the case.
Who are support brokers?
A support broker is a nominated individual who plans the support packages for the person who needs it. It can be:
- A family member
- A representative from a local charity or organisation
- Someone from social services, such as a social worker or support worker
Potentially, brokers may also be ‘bought’ or employed – in a similar way to the financial sector – meaning those who can afford to pay for professional brokers can do so, while others may pay family members or friends from their individual budget.
Who can use support brokers?
Anyone accessing care services can use a support broker to help find the support they need. However, people should not feel that they should have a broker if they don’t want one.
What can support brokers assist with?
Support brokers can assist with a variety of aspects of the care package – not just simply setting up the service. This includes:
- Setting up an assessment of needs
- Helping plan the support process
- Negotiating the personal budget and its uses
- Organising support to help manage the personal budget
- Evaluating the service the person receives
However, the older person must delegate to the support broker which services are required and in which areas assistance is needed.
All support brokers – no matter who they are employed by – should be independent, and operate solely with the individual’s best interests at heart.
The wealth of choice offered by personalisation should ensure this, although ‘professional’ brokers should still show no bias to the industry that employs them.
Likewise, organisations should not provide a broker if they also provide some element of the care package, as this is a conflict of interest.
Appointing a broker
Once you have appointed a support broker, they will write to confirm the arrangements made, which forms a contract or agreement. It should include such things as their contact details and when they will be available to work, what kind of help they will offer, how the older person wants to be involved in meetings or visits, arrangements for reporting back to the person and information about how the person can complain if they are not satisfied with the service received.
Getting the most out of the system
Support brokers provide a broad service, covering everything from establishing the type of support needed to evaluating its effectiveness.
To ensure service users get the most out of the system, they should establish clear boundaries with the broker, ensuring they are aware of the areas in which support is needed and the level of support desired.
Striking a balance
Defining the responsibility of the broker ensures the system is perfect for achieving a balance between support and empowerment.
The role of support brokers – like many in the personalisation process – is to establish what is important to the service user and to work towards that goal. But this may mean striking a balance between being happy and being safe for example. Therefore, the support broker must always try to advise the service user to find this balance if the care plan is to succeed.
How to access support brokers
A variety of agencies offer support brokerage services, including many local authorities. The National Brokerage Network (www.nationalbrokeragenetwork.org.uk) provides contact details and information on brokers throughout the country.