Direct payments and personal budgets are offered by your local authority to give you more flexibility over how your care and support is arranged and provided. They are given to both people with care and support needs, and also to carers.
A personal budget or direct payment will be created after an assessment by social services. If the council decides that you need any kind of support, you will receive a personal budget and can choose a direct payment instead of letting them arrange services for you.
If you aren’t able to, or don’t want to manage your own finances, it's possible for another person to manage the direct payments on your behalf.
Direct payments are voluntary, and you need to request or agree to have one. You can’t 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.
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Why choose a direct payment?
If you need care and support, this had in the past been provided direct from your local council. Direct payments were introduced to give people more choice and control over how their care and support was arranged, to help them live more independently.
The direct payment is paid to you by the council so that you can decide how you want to meet your care and support needs. Many people choose to employ their own personal assistant, although there are many other ways direct payments can be used.
The full control over care and support that direct payments enables is an attractive option for many people. However, some people may be unsure whether they want or could manage a direct payment. In these cases, the council can provide you with a mixed package of care.
A mixed package of care may consist of a smaller direct payment, with some care and support arranged by the council or a provider. This allows people to try out direct payments, before deciding whether to move to a "full" direct payment.
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 receiving direct payments to arrange care and support yourself, instead of having it arranged for you. If you want a direct payment, but do not wish to manage it yourself, a “nominated person” can receive the direct payment and manage it on your behalf. If a person lacks capacity to request a direct payment, an “authorised person” can request a direct payment and manage it on their behalf.
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 laws; 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
If someone is assessed as being eligible for support and it's not possible for them to get direct payments or they do not want one, social services must provide care and support directly, or through an individual service fund.
Consenting to direct payments
You have to be able to consent to direct payments to receive them.
To give consent, a person doesn't have to completely understand 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.
Managing direct payments
The council should set out your obligations and responsibilities in a direct payment agreement that you may be asked to sign. This could 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; talk to the council about local organisations who can help manage the administration and other responsibilities of being an employer
Direct payments can only be spent on things that will meet the assessed needs of the person. If you spend a direct payment on something that doesn't meet your needs, social services can recover the money from you or terminate the direct payment agreement.
Everyone who gets support from social services should have their care and support plan reviewed at least once a year. If someone's needs have changed, they should contact social services to request a review of their care plan. If needs have changed in a way that affects the details within the current plan, the council may conduct another assessment of needs, or a financial assessment.
Social services can charge for care and support. This means that you may need to make a financial contribution towards your personal budget amount. Your local social services must tell you if you'll need to contribute, and how much, and this will be detailed in your personal budget. Their charges must be in accordance with the law. Usually, the council will subtract any charge you need to pay from the personal budget amount, rather than asking you to pay.
You should be able to get help managing direct payments if you need it. Contact your local authority's social services department to find out what assistance they provide. Social services may give help directly or through a local direct payments support service.
Local voluntary organisations may also be able to provide tailored support, and Disability Rights UK has specialist expertise in direct payments.
Employing people and using agencies
GOV.UK has tips on employing someone if you decide to use your direct payment to hire a person directly. If you get direct payments and recruit a self-employed care worker or contract with an agency, you won’t have the responsibility of being an employer.
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.
You may still need advice on, for example, recruitment, taking references, background checks and insurance.
In some situations, employing a family member to provide care or administrative support may be an option. However, the council needs to agree it is necessary for you to use direct payments to employ a spouse or partner, or a close relative you live with.
For example, during the care planning process, you may explain that only the family member could fulfil the role – for example, for religious or cultural reasons.
If you choose instead to use an agency for your care services, they will take on many of the employment responsibilities.
When choosing an agency, you'll need to decide what sort of service you're looking for and the tasks you 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
- contacting the UK Home Care Association
- speaking to other people who get direct payments
- contacting the Care Quality Commission, which regulates all care providers
Find out about having care at home.
If someone doesn't have the mental capacity to request direct payments, it's possible for an “authorised person" to request the direct payment and take on responsibility for them. This will usually be a carer, family member or friend.
An "authorised 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.
Find out about assessing whether someone has mental capacity.
User-controlled trusts or independent living trusts
User-controlled or independent living trusts 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. Trusts can be set up to help manage direct payments, but they can also manage other money, including social security benefits.
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.
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.
You can get advice on setting up a trust from Money Advice Service. HMRC also has advice on setting up a trust.
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.