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Have pre-paid cards peaked?

There now seems to be consensus across the social care sector that direct payments have plateaued.  The real questions are 'why is this?' and 'what can be done about it?'. 

Last week, I was fortunate to be invited to attend the Direct Payments Summit, hosted by TLAP, the LGA & ADASS, which assembled key people from the sector to explore these questions.  The insight, enthusiasm and commitment in the room was inspirational and left me energised about the things that PPL can do to play our part in moving direct payments to the next level. 

It also got me thinking about some of the features of the direct payments sector that are close to home for PPL.  The use of pre-paid cards sky-rocketed in previous years, and they were seen by many as the 'golden bullet' for direct payments: simple, cheap and scalable. 

In recent months, we’ve seen a number of local authorities with pre-paid card solutions moving to Virtual Wallet,  and we are in discussions with several others (and ICBs) who are reviewing their pre-paid card offer. 

Eighteen months ago, we published an article comparing Virtual Wallet with pre-paid cards.  It focussed on a functional comparison, and noted many similarities between Virtual Wallet and pre-paid cards but perhaps missed a wider point.  

Recent TLAP blog posts and the Direct Payments Summit emphasise the importance of good direct payments support services.  Whilst pre-paid cards may indeed be simple, cheap and scalable from a local authority perspective, the operators are large companies involved in many sectors, with no real expertise in social care.  That can leave a void, especially from the individual's perspective.    

The experience of our Virtual Wallet helpdesk team is that when a direct payment recipient has a question or a problem, the issue is rarely simple and the solution normally involves more than a call centre operative amending a financial transaction. 

The direct payments world is sometimes messy -  PAs join or leave, timesheets are late or wrong, there are holiday pay and tax queries, people bank time or are admitted to hospital, client contributions change, invoices are wrong, etc etc.  Our Virtual Wallet solution was developed specifically for the management of personalised care and our support team live and breath this 'messy world', supporting Virtual Wallet users through it every step of the way.   

Alongside addressing the concerns of the cardholders,  we are also seeing local authorities and ICBs that are troubled by the cartel scandals involving pre-paid card companies in the local authority market and recent reports of regulatory & financial problems at one of the biggest providers of pre-paid cards.  

We have always felt that pre-paid cards do have something to offer in the direct payments world.   We still do, but it is perhaps more nuanced than some originally thought.  We have therefore entered in to a new partnership with B4B Payments, which enables us to offer a Virtual Wallet pre-paid card alongside our fully-supported Virtual Wallet offering.  This integrated solution gives the 'best of both', as the pre-paid card can be used for small, ad-hoc or necessary real-time purchases that Virtual Wallet might (if we're honest) otherwise make a meal of.  

To talk about your approach to delivering direct payments and personal health budgets and whether PPL can help, please get in touch.