What are direct payments and how do I get them?

Information on direct payments

Click on the questions below to find out more information.

What is a direct payment?

If you are eligible to receive support (sometimes called Self Directed Support) from your Local Authority you may be given a personal budget (in England) or individual budget (in Scotland) to spend on meeting your needs.

You can spend the personal budget in different ways. You can let your Local Authority social care department organise and pay for the support you need using your personal budget, or you can choose to get a cash payment allowing you to choose and pay for the support yourself. If you take a cash payment, this is called a direct payment because the Local Authority are allowing you to buy services directly.

How do I get a direct payment?

Before you can get a direct payment you must have an assessment of your needs which is done by your Local Authority/Council. In Northern Ireland, assessments are done by Health and Social Care Trusts. Different Local Authorities use different names for this assessment. It is sometimes called a community care assessment or a needs assessment. The assessment will look at your needs in all parts of your life including your personal health and care needs, social needs, family needs and educational needs. The Local Authority will then decide which of your needs they can and will support. The rules for deciding this depends on which part of the UK you live in. 

Once you have completed the assessment process you will be given an ‘indicative personal budget’ which will let you know roughly how much you might receive. You will then need to draw up a plan of how you will use the money to meet your needs and agree it with your social worker. Once your personal budget has been agreed, you can decide to receive it as a direct cash payment (a direct payment), choose to have someone else manage the budget for you or ask the Local Authority to arrange the support you need. You can also choose a mixture of these arrangements – it is whatever works best for you. 

Remember the process may be different depending on where in the UK you live. Each Local Authority may do things slightly differently.

Who can get a direct payment?

If you already get help from your Local Authority social services department, you can normally ask for a direct payment instead.
If you are not yet getting help, then you need to contact your Local Authority for an assessment. You can find your Local Authority contact details on GOV.UK website.

The rules about who can get a direct payment depend on which part of the UK you live in.

Most people who have been assessed as needing care services have a right to ask for a direct payment instead of having those services provided by their council. There are limited circumstances when direct payments are not awarded. However, direct payments are not compulsory, it is always the choice of the person receiving the care whether they want them or not. 

What can I use my direct payments for?

It might be easier to start with what you cannot use the payment for. Normally you cannot use it to:

  • Pay for permanent residential care (although you may be able to use it towards short term residential stays).
  • Unless you live in Scotland, you cannot use it employ a close family member who lives with you. There are some exceptions to this where your care needs can only be met by a close family member who lives with you. You must speak to your Local Authority if you think this might apply to you.
  • It cannot be used for tobacco, alcohol, gambling or illegal activities.
  • If you receive direct payments as a carer, you can only use the money for yourself and not to pay for services for the person you look after.

The idea of direct payments is to allow you flexibility and choice and therefore providing it is agreed in your care/support plan with your social worker then it can cover a range of things including personal needs (such as help getting dressed and getting out of bed), domestic needs (such as help with cleaning and shopping) and social needs (help going to clubs and taking part in leisure activities you enjoy).