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Personal budgets and direct payments

Find out about personal budgets and direct payments and how they give you greater control over the services you need for your care at home.
4 min read
In this article
What is a personal budget? What are direct payments? Do personal budgets and direct payments exist across the UK? Can I opt in or out of direct payment?
What can direct payments be spent on? What are the pros and cons of direct payments? I’ve heard the term ‘broker’ used. What are these?

What is a personal budget?

A personal budget is the amount of money that a local authority allocates for your care if they are supporting you following the needs and financial assessments. It allows you to make choices about your own care and forms part of a government move to personalise social care.

 

If you have been assessed as needing non-urgent help and support, you’ll be allocated a sum of money based on your care plan. You can then decide how the money is spent, which enables you to have greater choice and control over the services you need to use rather than taking a council’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ prescription.

What are direct payments?

Direct payment is the way in which you receive all or part of your personal budget – or you might decide to leave the organisation of your care needs with the social services and not take the direct payment. The decision is yours.

 

Most authorities make the direct payment every four weeks and straight into your bank account.

 

If you’re caring for someone who doesn’t want or isn’t able to manage their own finances, it’s possible for an authorised person to manage direct payments on their behalf. To find out more, contact the relevant social services department via the local authority website.


Most authorities make the direct payment every four weeks and straight into your bank account.

 

Do personal budgets and direct payments exist across the UK?

 

In England and Scotland, it’s mandatory for local councils to offer a personal budget as an option to all people who have been assessed as needing care services and who qualify for local authority funding. In Scotland, the system is called self-directed support.

 

There are different ways you can choose to take the personal budget:

  • as a direct payment, paid straight into your bank account
  • in an account managed by the local authority, but to be spent as you wish 
  • in an account held with a care service provider and managed by you
  • in an Independent Living Trust, held on your behalf by a family member, family carer, friend or other trusted party
  • as a mix of the above.


In Northern Ireland, direct payments are widely available but personal budgets managed by the local authority are at an early stage of roll out and aren’t yet available in all areas.

 

In Wales, only direct payments (also known as self-directed support) are available.

Can I opt in or out of direct payment?

If you accept direct payments, but then change your mind, you can stop them at any time. Equally, you can switch to direct payments at any time instead of having the local authority arrange your services.

 

If you decide to move from local authority arrangements to organising your own, the local authority has a duty of care to ensure the current services remain in place until you have organised your own.

What can direct payments be spent on?

You can only spend the money on care that has been agreed in your care plan and you must keep records to show exactly how the money has been spent. The local authority remains responsible for monitoring your needs and checking that they are still being met.

 

Direct payments can be used to:

Checklist (ticks)
  • purchase most community services, such as personal care, provision of meals or attendance at a day centre
  • pay for home help services. For example, if your care plan says that you need a home help or a gardener, you could use direct payments to employ a neighbour to help with these tasks.

 

Direct payments can’t be used to:

Checklist (crosses)
  • pay anyone else living in the same household, unless that person is specifically employed as a live-in carer
  • pay for permanent residential care.

What are the pros and cons of direct payments?

Receiving direct payments gives you more flexibility. You are able to choose who delivers the care services that you need, and when. This might be useful if you have a particular provider in mind – maybe one recommended by a friend – or if you aren’t happy with the choice of provider offered by the local authority.

 

However, if you use direct payments to pay a careworker, gardener or cleaner, for example, you legally become an employer. This could make you liable for PAYE tax and National Insurance. You might also have to think about things such as wages and contracts. See our information on employing private individuals for more guidance.

 

In Wales, local authorities provide support with legal issues around being an employer, such as recruitment and understanding the payroll.

I’ve heard the term ‘broker’ used. What are these?

A service broker can help to arrange the support that you need and assist with recruitment and employment issues. Your local authority might be able to recommend a broker in your area.

 

If you receive funding from your local authority, you shouldn’t have to pay to use a brokerage service. The local authority should provide this, although they may charge self-funders to use the service.

 

In Wales, service brokers aren’t available.

Further reading

Paying for home care

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Domiciliary care fees

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Last updated: 19 Sep 2018