The cost of caring for Birmingham’s fast-growing elderly population is set to soar by almost £290 million over the next decade.

The figure is as much as is spent on social services for all adults in a single year at the moment, leaving officials with a major funding headache.

Next week’s city council cabinet meeting will back a fundamental change in the way social care is administered in Birmingham by pressing ahead with allocating individual budgets to customers based on personal need, allowing people to choose the services they wish the money to be spent on.

But fears have been raised the system could put greater pressure on carers looking after the elderly. Under the new system, everyone applying for care will be asked to explain their personal circumstances, describing physical and mental tasks they can and cannot perform.

They will then be awarded points by social workers based on need, ranging from fewer than 20 points for applicants requiring the least assistance to over 100 points for the most complex mental health and learning disability cases.

Under what’s being called a Universal Resource Allocation System, each point will be worth £9.53 – made up of a combination of money from the council, Government and individual contributions.

All customers will be assessed in the same way, putting paid to claims that some groups in the past received preferential treatment. Estimates prepared by the council show that 500 adults with learning difficulties will be awarded about 70 points each, or almost £650.

Adults with severe physical disabilities could get almost 700 points, worth almost £7,000.

Applicants will be helped to choose the best way to use the money to improve quality of life and independence, often by buying services from the voluntary and private sectors rather than relying on the council.

Examples of how individual budgets could be spent include:

* Employing a personal assistant to help with activities.

* Joining a voluntary group to learn new skills and meet people.

* Buying care and home support services.

Individual budgets cannot be spent on food and drink, gambling or NHS and private health care. The city will save money by controlling the points system and by directing more customers to non-council service providers.

The principle behind individual budgets, giving freedom of choice to social care clients, was welcomed by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers.

However, policy spokesman Gordon Conochie warned that the new system could put even greater pressure on carers looking after elderly people.

They would find themselves faced with more work, having to interpret the individual budget and order services. The trust is also reporting concerns among carers that councils may use individual budgets as a “back door” exercise in cuts.

Mr Conochie said: “There is a fear that a personal budget will be much lower than the value of care services that are being provided for them by the council at the moment.”

Tony Howell, strategic director for adults and communities, said Birmingham could not afford to continue with the traditional top-down model for allocating social services.

By 2017-18 the number of nursing and residential care places required in the city is expected to rise by 14 per cent. Demand for services by people with learning disabilities will rise by 17 per cent. During the same period the number of adults aged 20 to 64 will rise by five per cent.

Mr Howell said continuing with traditional service models would put “unsustainable pressure” on council budgets.

He added: “Unlike the traditional model of social care, where professionals decided who would get a service and how it would be provided, self-directed care through the use of an individual budget allows people to have control over their own care.’’

Les Lawrence, the cabinet member for adults and communities, said 34 per cent of social services clients in Birmingham would have personal budgets by April 2011.

Coun Lawrence (Con, Northfield) added: “All new service users are now offered an individual budget and existing service users are being offered an individual budget when their care packages are reviewed or there is a need for an assessment.”