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Direct payments

If you, or the person you are looking after, are assessed by the local council/trust as needing support, then you or they have a right to ask for a direct payment instead of having the support arranged by the local council/trust.


This information applies to people living in England, Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland.


How do I get a direct payment?

To get a direct payment you firstly need to have an assessment from the local council/trust. The assessment and the process will differ depending on if you are a carer or the person being looked after.

For further information on assessments please click the relevant link below.

ENGLAND  WALES   SCOTLAND   NORTHERN IRELAND

If you, or the person you are looking after, are assessed by the local council/trust as needing support, then the local council/trust will work out how much it would cost to provide such support (generally called a personal budget). This is then broken down into any amount you or the person you are looking after might have to pay (if any – further information on charging is available in our assessments factsheets – see below) and any amount the local council/trust has to pay.

You can then choose to ask the local council/trust to arrange the support themselves or you can ask for a direct payment. A direct payment is the amount of money that the local council/trust has to pay to meet the needs of you or the person you are looking after, and which is given to enable you/them to purchase services that will meet your/their needs (as assessed by the local council/trust).

It is sometimes possible for the person you are looking after to pay you or another family member or friend to meet their needs (see “If the person I am looking after gets a direct payment can they use this to employ a family member?” for further information on employing family members).

Although most people will be given a direct payment if they ask for one there are some categories of people who cannot get a direct payment, for example those under various orders or treatments for drug or alcohol dependence.

If the person being assessed does not have mental capacity, or does have mental capacity but would be unable to manage a direct payment, then someone can be appointed to manage the direct payment on their behalf.

Note: If you or the person you are looking after already receive support from the local council/trust but would like to receive a direct payment instead, you can ask the local council/trust to make this change.

Note: Direct payments are not compulsory and if you would rather the local council/trust arrange the support they should do so. It can also be possible to have a combination of support from the local council/trust and direct payments.

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How much will the direct payment be?

The direct payment must be an amount sufficient to meet the needs the local council/trust have assessed you or the person you are looking after as having.

However, you/they might have to make a contribution towards the cost of meeting your needs (further information on charging is available in our assessments factsheets – see above).

If the person you are looking after uses the direct payment to pay for a care worker then there might be additional costs involved in this (ie recruitment costs, auto enrolment pension costs, national insurance and income tax cost etc.). If so then the direct payment amount must be sufficient to cover these costs.

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What can I spend the direct payment on?

The direct payment must be used to meet the needs the local council/trust assessed you or the person you are looking after as having.

The local council/trust has to agree that what you/they spend the direct payment on will meet these needs.

Example: If you are a carer and one of the needs the local council/trust assessed you as having was ‘help with the cost of driving lessons to help you continue in your caring role’ you could ask for a direct payment to meet this need and could use the direct payment to purchase driving lessons.

Example: If the person you are looking after is assessed as needing ‘a care worker for an hour a day’ they could ask for a direct payment to meet this need and could use the direct payment to employ someone of their choice to care for them for one hour a day (if the local council/trust agree that this person would meet this need). It is sometimes possible for the person you are looking after to pay you or another family member or friend to meet their care and support needs (see If the person I am looking after gets a direct payment can they use this to employ a family member? for further information on employing family members).

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Will getting a direct payment affect any benefits that I or the person I am looking after receives?

Direct payments that you are given as a carer to purchase services to meet your needs as a carer are not counted as ‘income’ for any benefits you receive, and so would not affect any of your benefits.

Direct payments that the person you are looking after is given to purchase services to meet their needs are not counted as ‘income’ for any benefits they receive, and so would not affect any of their benefits.

However, if the person you are looking after pays you or anyone else with their direct payments, then this would count as ‘earnings’ and might affect any benefits you, or anyone else being paid, gets.

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If I or the person I am looking after gets a direct payment would I or they have any responsibilities?

If you get a direct payment there will be various responsibilities.

Everyone receiving a direct payment must keep records and submit accounts to the local council/trust showing how the money was spent. The local council/trust should discuss with you what the monitoring process is.

In addition, if the person you are looking after has been assessed as needing a care worker, and if they have been given a direct payment to purchase this service, then depending on how they purchase this service, they (or someone managing the direct payment on their behalf) might be taking on the responsibilities of an employer – see section below.

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If the person I am looking after gets a direct payment to purchase a care worker does this mean they become an employer?

Using a care agency

If the person you are looking after uses a care agency to purchase this service, then the care agency would be the employers, and the person you are looking after would not be taking on the responsibilities of an employer.

If the person you are looking after wants to find care agencies in their area they could ask their local council/trust if they have a list of local care agencies and they could use one of the following:

  • In England the Care Quality Commission is the health and social care regulator and has an online directory of registered independence care services.
  • In Wales the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales is responsible for inspecting social care and social services and has an online directory of registered care services.
  • In Scotland the Care Inspectorate regulates and inspects care services and has an online directory of registered care services.
  • In Northern Ireland the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority is the independent health and social care regulator and has an online directory of registered care services.

Employing a care worker directly

If the person you are looking after employers a care worker directly (even if this is a family member or friend), then they will be taking on the responsibilities of an employer.

This can seem daunting, however, in many areas of the country there are organisations which can help with these responsibilities. You can ask your local council/trust about organisations in your area, and you can also have a look on the Resource Directory from Disability Rights UK which is a tool to help you find regional and local services that may be able to offer different types of support and advice, including support with direct payments.

Some examples of employment responsibilities:

  • check the references of the intended employee and find out if they have had an up to date Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check
  • make sure the intended employee has the right to work in the UK
  • set up a system for paying wages, deducting tax and national insurance and keeping records for the Inland Revenue
  • ensure that the employee has the annual leave they are entitled to under ‘Working Time Regulations’, any maternity/paternity/sick pay they are entitled to and ensure you comply with auto enrolment duties
  • do a check to ensure that there are no potential health and safety risks to the employee because of the care they will be providing, as well as removing any potential dangers in your home that could put them at risk
  • ensure that you have suitable insurance cover (ie employer’s liability insurance and public liability insurance)

This is not a definitive list and if the person you are looking after is considering becoming an employer they should seek advice on their full responsibilities.

If the person you are looking after does want to employ a care worker and wants to know how to find care workers in their area, then they could ask their local council/trust if they hold any information on care workers in the area and they could place a job advert on websites like Gumtree and the government website Universal Jobmatch.

There are some useful websites which have helpful information about employing care workers:

  • ACAS provides advice and information to employers and employees and have some information on employing personal care workers and a guide for new employers.
  • Being the Boss is a peer support website run by people with disabilities who aim to share knowledge, support and information around employing personal assistants.
  • Wales only - Dewis Cymru provides advice and information on direct payments and on employing personal assistants.
  • Scotland only - The Scottish Personal Assistant Employers Network (SPAEN) is a membership organisation which supports people with disabilities and/or long-term conditions or impairments to use a direct payment to employ personal assistants. They offer a range of supports and services to enable people to engage their own staff.
  • Scotland only - Self-Directed Support Scotland is a one one-stop-shop for information about self-directed support (including direct payments) for people who use social care services. It provides information about direct payments and links to local support organisations that can help you decide about employing care workers and to set up and manage your direct payment.
  • Northern Ireland only - The Centre for Independent Living provides advice and information on getting direct payments, using personal budgets and employing carers and personal assistants.
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If the person I am looking after gets a direct payment can they use this to employ a family member?

If the person you are looking after gets a direct payment to purchase a care worker they might want to employ someone they already know to provide the care, such as a family member. However, there are rules around employing family members which vary depending on whether the person you are looking after lives in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

In England the rules are that:

  • The person you are looking after cannot normally use the direct payment to pay a family member they live with to provide them with care. However, if the local council agree that this is the most effective way of meeting their needs then it is sometimes possible. For example, it might be necessary if there are religious reasons or communication reasons (other reasons may also count as necessary).
  • The person you are looking after can use the direct payment to pay a family member who does not live with them to provide them with care (as long as the local council agree that this family member will meet their needs).
  • The person you are looking after can use the direct payment to pay a family member (regardless as to whether or not they live with them) to provide the management and administration of the direct payments, where the local council think that this is necessary.

In Wales the rules are that:

  • The person you are looking after can use the direct payment to pay a family member who lives with them to provide them with care and/or management support, but only if the local council is satisfied that this is the best way of promoting and delivering their outcomes.
  • The person you are looking after can use the direct payment to pay a family member who does not live with them to provide them with care and/or management support (as long as the local council agree that this family member will meet their needs).

In Scotland the rules are that:

  • The person you are looking after can use the direct payment to pay a family member (regardless as to whether or not they live with them) to provide them with care if the local council think that this is appropriate and/or the best way of meeting the person’s needs. For example, it might be necessary if there are religious reasons or communication reasons (other reasons may also count as necessary) or because the right support is not available (ie in a rural or remote area). However, this is not the case if the local council believes that the family member is under undue pressure to agree to the arrangement, or if the family member is a guardian or has financial or welfare power of attorney for the person being looked after (in which case the family member cannot be paid via the direct payment of the person you are looking after).

In Northern Ireland the rules are that:

  • The person you are looking after cannot usually use the direct payment to pay their spouse or partner, or anyone who lives with them (unless that person is someone who has been specifically recruited to be a live in employee) to provide them with care, unless it is an exceptional circumstance. For example, it might be an exceptional circumstance if there are religious reasons or communication reasons (other reasons may also count as exceptional circumstances).
  • The person you are looking after can use the direct payment to pay a family member who does not live with them to provide them with care (as long as the local trust agrees that this family member will meet their needs).

Note: For England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, if the person you are looking after does want to employ a family member, try to think of an many reasons as you can as to why that family member would be the best person to provide the care (unless the family member is an exempt person in Scotland).

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