New advice to help personalise care and support services through Individual Service Funds (ISFs)

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There is new, comprehensive advice to help councils and providers meet Care Act 2014 guidance on Individual Service Funds (ISFs).

ISFs help people with care needs to have flexible, personalised support, tailored to individual preferences without having to manage the responsibility of cash direct payments.

It means people and families can choose to live in their own homes, with their own support and using their own budgets, while the councils that commission those services work differently with community organisations and providers of services to improve outcomes for people they serve and reduce costs. ISFs also work well in residential care settings and have been used as a model for improving the flexibility of homecare delivery.

The Guide - Individual Service Funds (ISFs) and Contracting for Flexible Support - is aimed at council commissioners and providers, and sets out how councils can contract flexibly with a service provider to meet a person's needs, and contract in a way that gives the person more control over their own support. It means the service provider can have the highest possible degree of flexibility to work with the person to identify the best support to meet their needs and advance their wellbeing.

Uptake of ISFs are fairly limited to date, but the guide recommends they should be the default option when a person does not want or is not able to manage a cash direct payment. The Guide also recommends that councils contract with providers of services in a way that enables them to be more accountable to people who use services and more responsive to their needs.

TLAP co-chair and member of the National Coproduction Advisory Group, Clenton Farquharson, says: "Many people who use care services don't want rigid support, they want to be able to react quickly to whatever might be happening in their life at that moment. So many people can benefit from this way of working - families, people with learning disabilities, mental health problems and people with dementia - but too few do. That's got to change."

United Kingdom Home Care Association Chief Executive and TLAP Board lead for Self-directed Support Bridget Warr says: "Individual Service Funds are a valuable and currently underused alternative where people don't want to take a Direct Payment. This helpful guide encourages commissioners and providers to ensure they are available and effective in helping people obtain the support they need to live at home. The close working relationship developed directly between the individual and the provider means that the service is tailored closely to the person's needs, preferences and aspirations and the resource allocated is deployed most effectively. I hope this report will play a significant part in encouraging all concerned to put the option of an Individual Service Fund up the priority list; it would be the choice for many people."

TLAP Director Dr Sam Bennett says: "Sometimes people would benefit from support from a particular organisation, perhaps because they have just the right expertise or perhaps because they are in just the right location. Often social workers know which organisation would suit the person best but current contracting arrangements can make it hard to put the person and the right organisation together. Contracting more flexibly can enable people to work with a handpicked organisation who can deliver flexible support through an Individual Service Fund."

Guide author Dr Simon Duffy says: "The drive towards personalisation has benefited many, but often the focus has been limited only to those who want to take direct payments and who choose to take complete control of their own support. Many people would benefit from much more flexible support, from an organisation that they've chosen. This is an option which is attractive, efficient and very effective - but far too few people are offered this option. Moreover, if this were available then it could end the use of block procurement and tendering for social care. People who need social care are all individuals, with rights; they should not be swept up in bureaucratic contractual changes."

Alicia Wood, Chief Executive of the Housing & Support Alliance says: "Direct payments and personal budgets have been a major factor in enabling people with learning disabilities to get the support they need to live in their own homes and make real choices about where they live and who they live with. What we are also seeing through our membership and advice service are the people and families that want real choice and control but cannot take on the work involved with creating a bespoke package of support. We think that ISFs can provide a sound framework for people who need support and their families to come together with commissioners and providers to create what people really want."


Notes to editors:

You can download Individual Service Funds (ISFs) and Contracting for Flexible Support from

TLAP developed the report with the Housing and Support Alliance. Dr Simon Duffy from the Centre for Welfare Reform was the primary author.

  • Individual service funds are a way of using a personal budget from the council to pay for support (such as home care) from a particular provider. The money can be held by that provider, but the individual remains in control of what the money is spent on and they don't have the responsibility of managing the budget themselves.
  • Direct payments are an amount of money that is paid to a person (or someone acting on their behalf) on a regular basis by a local council so the person can arrange their own support, instead of receiving social care services arranged by the council. Direct payments are available to people who have been assessed as being eligible for council-funded social care.
  • In the report, the following example is given of how ISFs can be used:
  • Sam Sly works with people who are described as having challenging behaviour, many of whom are currently placed in Assessment and Treatment Units, but where better community support is now being provided. In the Guide, she describes why the use of ISF has been so important in this work:
  • "ISFs give us the flexibility to be creative in designing bespoke services and the ability to work in true partnership with people and families. It means that services can quickly adapt to ensure the person has exactly the right support through the highs and lows of life. Without an ISF it would be very difficult to provide the kind of tailored services that people who've suffered for years with the label of 'challenging behaviour' deserve."
  • This report is part of a suite of resources commissioned by the Department of Health in partnership with the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services to support local government in implementing the Care Act 2014. For more information visit
  • For more information, please contact or telephone 020 7766 7377