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Direct payments

If you, or the person you are looking after, have been assessed as needing social services support from your local council or trust, you have the option of asking for a direct payment instead of receiving the support arranged by the local council or trust


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

What’s the difference?

Instead of receiving support arranged by your council or trust, you have the ability with a direct payment to choose and purchase the services you feel you need, as agreed by them. For example, you may wish to employ someone directly to help manage the care of the person you’re looking after.


How do I ask for a direct payment?

Before requesting a direct payment, you would first need to have an assessment from the local council or trust. The assessment and the process will differ depending on if you are a carer or the person who receives care.

The assessment and the process will differ depending on if you are a carer or the person being looked after.

See our country-specific factsheets for detailed information on assessments where you live:

ENGLAND  WALES   SCOTLAND   NORTHERN IRELAND

If you, or the person you are looking after, are assessed as needing support, then the local council or 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 anything) and any amount the local council/trust has to pay.

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

Sometimes, it is possible for the person you are looking after to pay you or another family member or friend to meet their needs. See Employing family members for further information.

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 or trust but would like to receive a direct payment instead, you can ask them 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 would the direct payment be?

The direct payment must be an amount sufficient to meet the needs you, or the person you are looking after, have been assessed as having.

However, sometimes the local council/trust will ask for a contribution towards the cost of meeting your needs –further information on charging is available in our assessments factsheets, see links 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 (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 or 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: You are a carer and one of the needs the local council or 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, using the direct payment to purchase driving lessons.

Example: Thr 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, using the direct payment to employ someone of their choice to care for them for one hour a day (if the local council or trust agree that this person would meet this need). Sometimes, it is 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 Employing family members for further information).

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Will getting a direct payment affect any benefits we're receiving?

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

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What responsibilities would I have?

You will have various responsibilities if you receive a direct payment.

Everyone receiving a direct payment must keep records and submit accounts to the local council or trust showing how the money was spent. The local council or 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 receives 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 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 or 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 employs 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 there are organisations that can help with these responsibilities. You can ask your local council or trust about organisations in your area, and you can also have a look in the Resource Directory from Disability Rights UK. This tool can help you find regional and local services offering 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
  • Make sure 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
  • Make sure 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 or trust if they hold any information on care workers in the area and they could place a job advert on reputable websites like Universal Jobmatch.

These websites also provide 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. Social Care Wales has also produced a useful resource covering good practice called Direct payments: a guide.
  • Scotland only – The Scottish Personal Assistant Employers Network (SPAEN) is a membership organisation that 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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Employing family members

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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