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Practical support

Direct payments

Direct payments from social services are payments made to you or the person you're looking after so that you can buy care services for yourself.

Direct payments aim to give you more flexibility in how your services are provided. By giving you money instead of social care services, you have greater choice and control over your life and are able to make your own decisions about how your care is delivered.

How to get direct payments

The decision to award direct payments takes place after an assessment by social services. This could be:

If the outcome of the assessment is that services will be provided, you or the person you're looking after have a right to ask for direct payments instead of having the service arranged by social services.

If you're already getting support from social services, you can ask to get direct payments instead.


Janet has a community care assessment. It results in a care plan that indicates that she needs the help of a care worker for six hours a week. Her local authority could either arrange to send its own choice of care worker or give Janet direct payments so that she can employ a worker of her own choice.

Choosing direct payments

In most cases, social services must offer you or the person you're looking after direct payments as an option. You can find more information about this below in the section Who can have direct payments?

If someone isn't able to manage their own direct payments, it's possible for another person to manage the direct payments on their behalf. This is explained below in the section on Managing direct payments for someone else.

The choice of direct payments is voluntary. Neither you nor the person you're looking after can be forced to have direct payments. If you decide to have direct payments, you can change your mind about this at any time. If you no longer want direct payments, contact your local social services and ask them to arrange services instead.

It's possible to try direct payments by asking social services for a direct payment for some of your support while you continue to get your other support directly from social services.

Managing direct payments

When you or the person you're looking after receive direct payments, there will be various obligations. These include:

  • Keeping records and accounting for how the money is spent to social services.
  • Taking on the legal role of an employer if you're using the payment to pay for a care worker, and undertaking all the legal responsibilities that go with it. Help may be available from local organisations to manage the administration involved and other responsibilities.

You should be able to get support with managing direct payments if you need it. See Help managing direct payments, below, for more information.

Direct payments can only be spent on things that will meet the assessed needs of the person getting them. If you spend a direct payment on something that doesn't meet your needs, social services can recover the money from you.

Everyone who gets support from social services should have their needs reassessed at least once a year. If someone's needs have changed, they should contact social services for a reassessment.

Social services can charge for some services that they provide. This means that if you get direct payments, you may need to make a financial contribution towards the direct payment. Your local social services should tell you if you'll need to contribute, and how much. Their charges must be fair and they must follow the rules described in the page on Homecare costs

Who can have direct payments?

In most cases, if you or the person you're looking after are assessed and social services decide you need support services, they must offer you the option of getting direct payments to buy those services yourself instead of having them arranged for you.

Previously, people deemed to lack the mental capacity to make their own decisions couldn't get direct payments. Since 2009, it's been possible for a "suitable person" to receive and manage a direct payment on behalf of someone who lacks the mental capacity. For more details, read Managing direct payments for someone else, below.

There are very limited situations when social services don't have a duty to offer direct payments. This applies to:

  • Certain people who are subject to mental health legislation. In this case, social services can decide whether or not to offer direct payments.
  • Offenders who are required to undergo treatment for drug or alcohol dependence. It's not possible for people in this situation to get direct payments.

If someone is assessed as being eligible for support and it's not possible for them to get direct payments, social services must provide support directly.

Consenting to direct payments

You or the person you're looking after have to be able to consent to direct payments to receive them. It is voluntary and you do not have to choose direct payments unless you want to.

To give consent, a person doesn't have to understand completely how direct payments work. It is enough that a person understands that direct payments would give them the opportunity to make choices for themselves.

Giving consent is not the same as being able to manage the direct payments alone. If someone is capable of giving consent to have the choice of direct payments, they may still need support to manage the direct payments. Read Managing direct payments for someone else, below, to find out how people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions can get direct payments.


Celia has severe learning disabilities and has been assessed as needing various services by her local authority. Her carer, Bill, explains to her that direct payments will allow her to make choices for herself about these services, such as the time and location.

Celia is able to express her preference for direct payments, but will need help to manage them because she's not fully able to look after her own finances.

Help managing direct payments

You or the person you care for should be able to get help managing direct payments if you need it. The first step is to contact your local social services to find out what assistance they provide. They may give help directly or through a local direct payments support service.

Local voluntary organisations may also be able to provide tailored support. For example:

  • organisations working with people who have a learning disability, such as People First
  • mental health organisations, such as Mind

The National Centre for Independent Living has specialist expertise in direct payments.

Speak to a Carers Direct helpline adviser on 0300 123 1053 if you would like help with finding local support. Alternatively, search the directory of local carers' services.

Being an employer

You or the person you're looking after may be able to have direct payments from social services so that you can buy the care services you need. These payments could be used to pay a care worker to provide you or the person you're looking after with care. If direct payments are used in this way, the person receiving direct payments will become the employer of whoever they pay to provide them with care. The employment agreement is between these two people and does not directly involve social services.

This can give you or the person you care for freedom and flexibility about your choice of care worker. You can interview and choose for yourself the person you would most like to provide your care.

Employers' responsibilities

There are also responsibilities that go with being an employer, including:

  • checking the references of anyone you want to offer a job to
  • setting up a system for paying wages and producing a wage slip
  • deducting income tax and national insurance contributions and keeping appropriate records
  • finding out if the intended employee has had a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check
  • ensuring that the employee has the annual leave they're entitled to under the Working Time Regulations
  • doing a health and safety check to ensure that there are no potential dangers in the home they'll be working in
  • assessing whether the care you need, such as lifting, could put the employee at risk
  • making sure that you have appropriate insurance cover

Common questions

What happens if the employee becomes ill or pregnant?

You or the person you look after will be liable for the normal payments that employers have to make in these situations. You will need to contact your social services department to ensure that your direct payments are enough to meet all your legal responsibilities.

How much money will you get to pay a worker?

There's no set amount. You or the person you're looking after will need to be sure that you are receiving an amount that will fully cover your costs, including insurance and administration, and a CRB check.

Can we change from local authority services to direct payments?

Yes, but if there's any delay in arranging this it would be best to ask social services to continue providing the services until the matter is resolved.

What if we are unhappy with direct payments?

Having direct payments is voluntary so you can change your mind. If that happens, you should contact social services as quickly as possible to discuss the matter and ask for services to be provided directly.

Can we complain to social services about our care worker?

You won't be able to use the normal social services complaints system, but you may be able to get advice and information from social services.

What if the care worker is ill or on holiday?

You need to plan emergency back-up services to ensure the person you're looking after will have the care they need if the care worker is away. If back-up arrangements break down, contact social services as soon as possible, as they have a responsibility to ensure that your assessed needs are met.

Can anyone help administer the direct payments?

There's a variety of support available, ranging from advice and information to practical help. Some social services departments may be able to help with recruiting staff or carrying out Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks.

Local organisations may provide payroll services, which means that they manage the process of paying employees' wages and making the appropriate deductions for income tax and national insurance. A payroll service will usually charge a fee, which the person getting direct payments should take into account when they negotiate the amount of direct payment they need.

In some cases, local organisations or agencies may be able to take over the legal role of the employer. Read Help managing direct payments (above) for more information about sources of support.

Using a homecare agency

The person receiving direct payments could use a home care agency to get a paid care worker. If someone buys care services from an agency, they won't have the responsibilities of being an employer, as the person giving the care will be employed by the agency.

When choosing an agency, they'll need to decide what sort of service they're looking for and the tasks they need help with. It's a good idea to contact more than one agency as they may offer different types of services.

You can find out about local home care agencies by:

  • asking social services
  • getting in touch with direct payments support services
  • speaking to other people who get direct payments
  • contacting the Care Quality Commission, which regulates all care providers
  • contacting the UK Home Care Association

In most cases, the agencies will recruit a care worker and check references and CRB. They may pay the care worker directly, then invoice the person receiving direct payments for a sum that will include the cost of the care and the agency's own expenses and charges.

Some agencies ensure that care workers receive appropriate training in, for example, manual handling or administering medication.

The agency fees should be taken into account when the person receiving direct payments negotiates the amount of the payments.

Recruiting someone who is self-employed

If the person receiving direct payments recruits a care worker who is self-employed, they will not have the responsibility of being an employer. They won't need to make any deductions from pay for tax and national insurance contributions. However, they will need to be sure that the care worker is genuinely self-employed to avoid any disputes with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

You can find out whether someone is self-employed or if they count as your employee by using HMRC’s employment status indicator online tool.

Someone recruiting a care worker who is self-employed may still need advice on, for example, recruitment, taking references, CRB checks and insurance.

Employing a family member

In some situations, employing a family member to provide care could be a good solution. This will obviously depend on the needs and wishes of the person who has been assessed as needing care.

There are some restrictions about who you can employ using direct payments. It's not usually possible for someone to use direct payments to employ:

  • their spouse or partner
  • a close relative who they live with

In exceptional circumstances it may be possible for someone to use direct payments to pay for care from a family member they live with.

This could be the case if it's possible to argue that only the family member could fulfil the role. Religious reasons, language difficulties or specific health problems, among other reasons, may constitute exceptional circumstances.


There are certain drawbacks to employing a family member to provide care. It's important to think about:

  • how becoming employer and employee could affect your family relationships
  • how becoming a paid carer could affect the family member's eligibility for benefits
  • whether becoming a paid carer could affect any support that the family member gets from social services because of a current unpaid caring role


Sylvie cares for her aunt Trish, who has mental health problems. Trish receives direct payments of £110 a week to pay for care and this is paid to Sylvie to provide that care. Sylvie has now become Trish's employee and is receiving earnings. Sylvie was receiving Carer's Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. She will now have to declare these earnings so that her benefits can be readjusted. She will lose Carer's Allowance as she is over the earnings limit, and the other benefits will be reduced or lost.

Sylvie had a carer's assessment from her local social services and she received help in the form of advice and information, as well as her own direct payments to pay for her attendance at leisure classes.

Social services may take the view that, since she is now an employee, she is no longer entitled to a carer's assessment or direct payments for herself as a carer.

Sylvie will have to show that she provides regular and substantial care for her aunt over and above the hours for which she receives payment. If she can show this, she may still be entitled to a carer's assessment and services.

Managing direct payments for someone else

If the person you care for doesn't have the mental capacity to manage direct payments, it's possible for a "suitable person" to take on responsibility for them. This will usually be a carer, family member or friend.

A "suitable person" getting direct payments on behalf of someone else who lacks capacity must:

  • act in the best interests of the person who lacks capacity
  • make sure that the person has as much input as possible into decisions that affect them
  • let social services know as soon as possible if it seems that the person might be regaining the mental capacity to make their own decisions

Contact social services if you want to find out about managing direct payments for someone you care for. In some situations, it may be appropriate for a person who lacks capacity to receive direct payments through a user controlled trust (see below).

User controlled trusts

These are a way for people who don't have the capacity or ability to manage their own direct payments to get support from people close to them. They can also be referred to as "independent living trusts". They can be set up to help manage direct payments, but they can also manage other money, including social security benefits.

What is a trust?

A trust is a legal commitment that creates legal duties and responsibilities for the trustees – the people who have agreed to manage the trust. The trust deed is a written document that contains information about the trust. It has to be signed by the trustees and countersigned by independent witnesses. The trust deed will name all the trustees and the person for whom the trust is being made. It will spell out the purposes of the trust and the powers of the trustees.

The trustees

Trustees could be carers, family members, friends, neighbours or professionals. The law says there must be a minimum of two trustees, but it's better to have at least three. Above all, it's important that the trustees are committed to the person for whom the trust is made and have a good knowledge of their needs.

The trustees have a duty to act in the best interests of the person for whom the trust is set up. They must not make a personal profit from the trust, and they have to be careful that their duties under the trust don't conflict with their own interests.

How to set up a trust

The first step to setting up a trust is to arrange a community care assessment to see if the person you care for is eligible for help from social services. If it's agreed that they can get direct payments, the next steps are as follows:

  • Decide who the trustees will be.
  • Decide the aims of the trustees and make a constitution. This is a written document that sets out the responsibilities of the trustees. All the trustees must agree and sign it. What's included in the constitution will depend on individual circumstances, but it could include such things as who will be responsible for paying and supervising personal assistants or paid carers, how often the trustees will meet to review arrangements, how trustees can resign, and how a new trustee can be appointed. Social services may be able to advise about this. 
  • Draw up a trust deed. Again, social services may be able to provide a sample deed that you can personalise.
  • Check these documents with an independent solicitor if you wish. 
  • Give a copy of the documents to social services. 
  • Open a bank account that will be used for the direct payments. 
  • Sign a direct payments agreement with social services. 
  • Recruit carers or buy services. 
  • Trustees should meet regularly to review arrangements. 
  • Trustees should also meet with the cared-for person's social worker to review care arrangements.

Many local authorities produce sample constitutions and trust deeds, such as this sample constitution and trust deed produced by Devon County Council (PDF, 34kb), which you can base your own on.

The liability of trustees

Trustees need to think very carefully about their liability for any loss to the trust. The trust deed should contain an agreement that if, for example, the trust suffers a financial loss, the trustees won't be personally liable. This protection for a trustee would not apply if the loss were caused by the trustee in a deliberate or fraudulent way.


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The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

janice1056 said on 01 May 2014

I get direct payments for my son which equates to 58.50 a week, and the contribution we had to pay towards this was
17.14 a week which i felt was excessive.I have now received a new assessed contribution form today which now states we have to pay 36.79 a week. What is the point in having it because they give you it in one hand and take back with the other. Also i think it is ridulous that on assessment I am not allowed to claim anything from him for liams keep ie rent, when it would cost a sight more for him to be living away from home. can anyone help me with advice as i am feeling
very upset about it.

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ricnardo said on 08 December 2013

I would like to find out, if any money is left over, what we can use it for, ie days out, extra private health visits, hairdresser, etc etc, or other items that my brother may feel he needs, we have control over spending of money, and we have a small surplus,
He would like certain things, or taking places, but we are told the money can only be spent on paying someone to care for him,
He is in a wheelchair, cannot walk, or talk, or make meals, clean himself, etc, and is getting worse, we wanted him to have days out but we need help to move, .

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Jane783 said on 15 November 2011

Hopefully by now you will have the infomation you need.
My understanding is that if you earn more than £100-00 a week you will not be entitled to Carers Allowance.

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suepaul9 said on 25 September 2011

Hubby is disabled, I work full time but leave home at 6am to get an early start. I am home mid afternoon. I leave hubby his breakfast ready, sandwich and juice for lunch, I am back for the evening and am with him apart from food shopping which is mostly done on line, work etc 24/7. I control his medication, take him to doctor/hospital appointments, shower him etc. I have been told I cannot get carers allowance as I work full time. Is this true please? He gets DLA middle rate and highest rate of MA. His P60 shows the money he gets from DWP does not take him above any threshold, does not even come close, yet I again have been told I cannot claim any tax refund on the tax that I pay even though we are married.
What help can I get please?

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Page last reviewed: 19/08/2013

Next review due: 19/08/2015

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