Your guide to care and support

Direct payments

Direct payments give you more flexibility over how your care and support is arranged and provided.

If, after a care needs assessment, your council decides you need support, you will receive a personal budget. You can choose to receive your personal budget as a direct payment instead of letting the council arrange services for you.

Why choose direct payments?

Direct payments give you more choice and control over how your care and support is arranged.

The direct payment is paid to you by the council's social services department, so you can decide how to spend it on care and support. For instance, many people choose to employ their own personal assistant or care worker, although there are many other ways you can use direct payments.

If you're unsure whether you want or could manage a direct payment, you can have a mixed package of care. This may consist of a smaller direct payment plus some care and support arranged by the council or a provider. This allows you to try out direct payments before deciding whether to move to a "full" direct payment.

If you aren't able or don't want to manage your own finances, another person can manage the direct payments on your behalf.

You can decide not to carry on having direct payments at any time. If you no longer want direct payments, contact your local council's social services department and ask them to arrange your services for you.

Read about the different types of homecare you could buy with a direct payment.

The pros and cons of direct payments

Direct payments may suit you if:

  • you want to retain or take control of your own care and support services
  • you want more choice in selecting the products and services that meet your specific needs
  • you're confident with money and paperwork, or you have people to support you with this
  • you're happy to keep receipts and invoices, and to submit these to social services on time

Direct payments are probably not for you if:

  • you're uncomfortable about being an employer – you might need to manage the people who care for you, although help to make these arrangements is available
  • you're not confident about keeping careful records and safely filing important documents such as receipts, although help to make these arrangements is available
  • you have frequent or long periods in hospital
  • you're happy to let your local council provide you with care services

Who can have direct payments?

In most cases, if you're assessed and social services decide you need support services, they must offer you the option of receiving direct payments.

If you want a direct payment but don't want to manage it yourself, you can nominate a person to receive and manage the direct payment on your behalf.

If someone lacks the capacity to request a direct payment, an authorised person can request a direct payment and manage it on their behalf.

How do direct payments work?

Direct payments go straight into your bank, Post Office, building society or National Savings and Investments account.

But you can't spend the money on just anything. The local council must be satisfied the payments are going towards the care services agreed in your care plan.

How to apply for direct payments

If you already receive care services, ask your local council's social services department about direct payments.

If you're applying for care services for the first time, your social worker should discuss the direct payments option with you when they assess your care needs.

If you live in England, apply for direct payments via the GOV.UK website

Managing direct payments

Your local council should set out a direct payment agreement that you may be asked to sign. This could include information on:

  • keeping records and accounting for how you spend the money
  • the legal aspects of your role as an employer if you're using the money to pay for a care worker

Direct payments can only be spent on things that meet your assessed needs. If you spend a direct payment on something else, your local council's social services department can take back the money or end the direct payment agreement.

You should have your care and support plan reviewed at least once a year. If, in the meantime, your needs change, ask your local council's social services department to review it.

Your local council can charge for care and support. This means you may need to make a financial contribution towards your personal budget. Your local council must tell you if, and how much, you need to contribute. This will be detailed in your personal budget.

Getting help managing direct payments

If you need help managing direct payments, contact your local council's social services department to find out what help they provide.

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

Disability Rights UK has specialist expertise in direct payments.

Managing direct payments for someone else

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 is usually 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 the person has as much input as possible into decisions that affect them
  • let the local council's social services department know as soon as possible if it seems the person might be regaining the mental capacity to make their own decisions

Contact your local council's social services department to find out more about managing direct payments for someone else.

Find out about assessing whether someone has mental capacity.

Setting up a trust to manage direct payments

User-controlled or independent living trusts are a way for people who don't have the mental 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 benefits.

Get advice on setting up a trust from the Money Advice Service.

Employing people and using agencies

You may want to use your direct payment to employ a personal assistant or care worker.

You're usually considered the employer of someone who works in your home if you hire them and they're not self-employed or paid through an agency.

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.

Even if you don't employ them, 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 local council needs to agree it's necessary for you to use direct payments to employ a spouse or partner, or a close relative you live with.

Using an agency

If you choose to use an agency for your care services, they will take on many of the employment responsibilities.

When choosing an agency, 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:

Read tips on employing a care worker to work in your home.

Find out more about having care at home.

Page last reviewed: 03/04/2018
Next review due: 03/04/2021