Managing direct payments to pay for the care you need

If you’ve opted to receive direct payments to pay for personal care services yourself, there are important things you should know, such as how to compare products and services and how to manage your budget effectively.

Direct payments at a glance

Direct payments are made by local authorities (or Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland) to people who need support with their care. Instead of the council (or trust) providing the care services directly, they’ll make payments into your bank, building society, Post Office or National Savings account. You’re then responsible for arranging and paying for your own care and support services.

Managing your own personal care budget

If you’ve opted to receive direct payments, the next step is to work out which providers and services you’d like to use to achieve the outcomes described in your care plan.

Naturally, there are rules and obligations set out by the local authority to make sure that everyone does this in a safe and fair way. But you have the opportunity of expressing your wellbeing needs as part of the planning process, and this must be taken into account.

  • You must keep receipts to show how the budget is spent and send these to social services.
  • You must only spend the money on care and support services that meet the specific needs agreed in your care plan.
  • Depending on how much the payment is, you may need to top it up with money of your own.
  • If you can’t account for everything you spend, or you use the money for items not in your agreed care plan, you could be asked to reimburse your local authority.
  • You can’t use direct payments to pay for informal care from a spouse, partner or close relative who lives with you, unless they’re registered as a carer.
  • You may need to take on the legal role of an employer if you pay a person to help you with your care - for more about this, see the section Paying for carers using direct payments below.
  • You can’t use direct payments to pay for permanent residential accommodation, but you may be able to use direct payments to pay for occasional short periods in residential accommodation if your council agrees that is what you need.

The rules for direct payments vary around the country. Speak to your social worker or contact your council to find out how regional variations affect you.

More information about managing direct payments

Many local voluntary organisations and social enterprises provide tailored support with managing your direct payments and putting together your care plan. They are independent from the local authority. For example:

  • organisations working with people who have a learning disability, such as People First – look in the phone book for your local branch
  • mental health organisations, such as Mind
  • Disability Rights UK (formerly the National Centre for Independent Living)
  • peer support planning organisations such as MySupportBroker

You may also want to:

Paying for carers using direct payments

If you use your direct payments to employ a carer, you’ll immediately take on certain responsibilities as an employer. That means you’ll have to think about tax, national minimum wage, sickness and holiday pay, pension, and liability insurance. Whether you employ someone for a few hours a week or full time, the same rules apply. If that sounds a bit daunting, there are people and organisations that can help.

  • Look at local firms who offer payroll services. They’ll handle tax and National Insurance contributions for a fee.
  • Think about using a home care agency rather than employing someone yourself. They’ll deal with all the paperwork, including references and criminal checks, and invoice you directly.
  • Speak to a Carers Direct helpline adviser on 0300 123 1053 if you would like help with finding local support.

Ask your social services department about local home care agencies and check them out with the relevant regulator:

Comparing products and services

Even if you’ve decided to purchase care and support products and services yourself, you can still ask social services for help and advice. They’ll be able to tell you about local providers and preferred suppliers, so you can shop around for the best deal.

Local support groups may also be able to provide information and assistance, while some national organisations may provide tailored support or sell equipment for disabled people themselves.

Keeping records of what you spend your direct payments on

If you receive direct payments you’ll need to keep track of the money you spend. Your council will tell you what information you’ll be expected to provide (such as time-sheets signed by carers, receipts for equipment or invoices from home care agencies), as well as how and when to submit this information to them.

What to do if your circumstances change

Top tip

Don’t delay in telling your council or trust about a change in circumstances – it could mean you get more money.

If your needs change, contact your council as soon as possible so that they can reassess the level of payments you need – you might be entitled to more. Alternatively, if you don’t need to spend the full amount because your condition improves temporarily, or you go into hospital, they may need to adjust your payments.

If you don’t want to continue with direct payments

If you decide you don’t want to receive or manage direct payments yourself anymore, your council has a legal duty to arrange services instead. Similarly, if the council decides you can’t manage with direct payments, they might decide to provide services directly.