Social care direct payments

Direct payments are an alternative to the local authority arranging services on your behalf and holding your personal budget. It can be empowering if it is right for you. You have discretion to use the money in the way that best suits you to meet the eligible needs identified in your care and support plan.

Direct payment icon.

Direct payments go straight into your bank, Post Office, building society or National Savings account, but you can’t just spend the money on anything.

The council must be satisfied that the payments are going towards the care services agreed in your care plan.

How much will I get as a direct payment?

The direct payment must be enough to meet the needs that your local council has assessed you as having.

If you use your direct payment to pay for a care worker, there may be extra costs involved (for example, recruitment costs, employer pension contributions, income tax). The direct payment must be enough to meet these costs.

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.

Managing direct payments to pay for care

There are rules set out by the local authority to make sure direct payments are used appropriately:

  • You must keep receipts to show how the budget is spent and show these to social services if they ask you to.
  • You must only spend the money on care and support services that meet the specific needs agreed in your care plan.
  • If you can’t account for everything you spend, or you use the money for things not in your care plan, you could be asked to reimburse your local authority.
  • If you hire care workers directly, it is likely that in doing so you will take on the legal role of an employer. This means you will have several legal and administrative responsibilities to carry out, for example:
    • paying wages - deducting tax and national insurance, sick pay, holiday pay, maternity pay etc
    • employment contract (terms and conditions) – hours worked, notice periods, holiday entitlement, disciplinary and grievance procedure etc
    • employer’s and public liability insurance, etc

Some people use a payroll service to pay staff and handle the ‘paperwork’ such as national insurance and tax/PAYE.

For more information on your responsibilities as an employer visit

  • You cannot 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 cannot use direct payments to pay for permanent residential accommodation, but you might be able to use them 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.

Getting support to manage direct payments

Someone (known as a nominated person) can receive direct payments on your behalf, this may be a family member or close friend. It is likely that they will hold Lasting Power of Attorney or been appointed by the Court of Protection as a Deputy on your behalf.

Your local authority can provide support with managing your direct payments.

Alternatively, many local voluntary organisations and social enterprises provide tailored support with managing your direct payments and putting together your care plan. These organisations are independent from the local authority. Disability Rights UK (formerly the National Centre for Independent Living) has a helpline, which offers advice about direct payments.

If you don’t want to continue with direct payments

If you decide you don’t want to 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 if there isn’t anybody close to you who can take over managing the payments.

The Pros and Cons of Direct Payments


  • You can retain or take control of your own care and support services
  • More choice in selecting the products and services that meet your specific needs
  • Reduces administrative costs and can make your personal budget go further


  • You may find yourself needing to be an employer – which involves managing pay and complying with employment and tax law.
  • You need to keep careful records and safely file important documents such as receipts
  • Not ideal if you spend frequent or long periods in hospital