Direct payments explained

Paying for your own care and support services with money received directly from your local council gives you independence, choice and control, but there are also downsides to managing your own care budget.

What are direct payments?

If your local authority (or your Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland) agrees to fund some or all of your care services, you will be offered the choice of:

  • the council providing the services directly to you
  • receiving direct payments from the council, and arranging and paying for your care and support services yourself

To receive direct payments, you first need to contact your local council or trust to ask them to assess your care needs. How much you get depends on your financial circumstances, and you may need to top it up with money of your own.

How do direct payments work?

Direct payments go straight into your bank, building society, Post Office or National Savings account, but you can’t just spend the money on anything – the council has to be satisfied that it’s going towards legitimate care needs and the services agreed in your care plan.

A care plan is a written agreement between you and your health professional and/or social services to help you manage your health and wellbeing day to day.

The care plan is based on what you want, so you’re in control. All the information in your care plan is private and you can share it as you choose.

You can have a care plan review at least once a year. You can also ask for one if you feel the care plan isn’t working or if other things in your life change.

Direct payments could be for 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 have people to support you with this
  • you’re happy to keep receipts and invoices and submit these to social services on time

Direct payments are probably not for you if:

  • you’re uncomfortable about being an employer – you may 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 spend frequent or long periods in hospital
  • you’re happy to let your local authority provide you with care services

How to apply for direct payments

If you already receive care services, ask your local council 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, Wales or Scotland apply for direct payments via the GOV.UK website.

If you live in Northern Ireland, find out more about direct payments on the nidirect website

What others have to say about direct payments

Example 1

“It took me years to get carers I could trust, and who I felt comfortable with in my own home. Joan and Derek were like family but then, out of the blue, the council told me they were giving the contract to a private firm.”

“Joan and Derek were going to be made redundant so I asked them if they’d consider working for me directly. They were delighted and the social work department bought into it too – they didn’t want me to go through any more upheaval.”

“The council pays the money directly into my Post Office account and I pay Joan and Derek. There’s a bit of extra paperwork involved but my son runs his own business, so he keeps me right.” – George

Example 2

“We were 45 years married and while I brought up the kids, Jim always looked after the money side of things. Now that he’s gone, I find it a struggle.”

“I can cope with bills but I’d be lost if I had to pay carers and such like. And what about the new ramp and rails the council put in last month? I wouldn’t have known where to start organising that.”

“No, I’m happy for the council to deal with it all – I can always speak to social workers if there’s anything I’m worried about.” – Maureen