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Practical support

Choosing your own support

In many areas, local authorities are offering carers and people who need care the option to decide what care services they receive.

These options, known as 'self-directed support' or 'personalisation', are designed to give you greater flexibility, choice and control of the social care funding available to you. The options include direct payments, personal budgets and individual budgets. You can read more about these below.

Most people currently receiving social care services have received them as the result of a care plan outlining the services they need, following an assessment of their needs. Most people aren’t aware of how much their care package costs.

Self-directed support gives eligible people an allocation of money to spend on their own care each year (although this amount will not necessarily be the same as the amount currently spent by the local authority on their services). This allows eligible people to design their own care plan for the year based on the amount of money allocated to them.

If you are happy with your existing social care services then you don’t have to change how they are provided.

How do personal budgets, individual budgets and direct payments differ?

Personal budgets

A personal budget is an amount of money set aside to pay for your care needs. You can direct your local authority how to spend this budget on your behalf, or you can receive the personal budget as a direct payment to pay for services yourself. A personal budget can also be allocated to a trust fund managed by your friends or family, or managed by a professional such as a social worker.

Alternatively, it can be provided as an individual service fund. This is where the local authority pays for support but you have complete control over what support you receive and how it's provided. This means you recruit the people you need to help you. Read more about individual service funds on the In Control website.

Individual budgets

An individual budget is very similar to a personal budget. However, it includes other sources of funding, such as the Independent Living Fund, and it can be used more flexibly to meet individual needs. For example, you may have money allocated for a holiday, if this will clearly meet your social care needs.

Direct payments

A direct payment is money given to you directly so that you can buy services (such as employing a personal assistant) and equipment for your care needs. It puts you in complete control, but it comes with responsibilities, such as employment issues.

Self-directed support does not always mean that you have to manage the money yourself, although this is an option.

Personal budgets allow you to receive your allocated funding in a variety of forms, such as through direct payments.

Personal health budgets

Personal health budgets are being trialled in the NHS. Most people with a personal health budget have a long-term condition or disability. A personal health budget is a plan for your healthcare that you develop, knowing how much NHS money is available.

Find out more about choice in the NHS and personal health budgets.

How does it work?

Your local authority will ask you to complete a self-assessment questionnaire with your social worker. They will use this to decide what support you need.

You will then have a financial assessment that takes into consideration your savings and income, and assesses how much, if any, contribution you need to make towards your care needs. Means-tested benefits are not taken into account when assessing your income.

If you receive Income Support or the guarantee credit element of Pension Credit, you will not have to pay anything. If you don’t receive these benefits, the council may ask you to fill out a financial form detailing your income and expenses. From this, they will work out if you have to pay a contribution and how much.

Based on these assessments your local authority will calculate the approximate cost of meeting your care needs. This is called an ‘indicative allocation’ and it is from this that you create a support plan covering what help you need and how you intend to spend your money.

Once you have had your support plan agreed, the total cost, which must fall within your indicative allocation, becomes your personal budget. The local authority will make this amount available to you, minus any personal contribution you have been asked to make.


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Page last reviewed: 09/05/2012

Next review due: 09/05/2014

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