What is a personal budget?

A personal budget is an amount agreed by the local authority to meet your eligible needs following a needs assessment or community care assessment.

A personal budget is sometimes called 'self-directed support'. Here we use the term 'local authority' or LA to cover both social services departments and Health and Social Care Trusts (Northern Ireland).

Personal budgets aren’t available in all nations. Read about what is available in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

How do personal budgets work?

Under the old support system, social services and other professionals assessed you, and then told you what services they were going to provide. With a personal budget, you are able to say what you want out of life, and plan what support would be best for you.

The personal budget could be paid to you as a direct payment to manage yourself, managed by the local authority or a combination of both. Sometimes a third party, such as a care provider or a charity, can manage the budget on your behalf.

How do I get a personal budget?

Usually, a professional will carry out a community care assessment or needs assessment to see what your eligibility is for services. This is sometimes followed by a Self Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ). This might be called a Supported Self Assessment questionnaire or a different name in some local authorities.

Sometimes, you just complete a SAQ, rather than completing both this and a needs assessment. If this is the case, it's important that you get as much help as you need to complete the SAQ. If you are happy to complete it alone or with the help of family or friends, that's fine. But if you feel you need the help of social services then you should ask for this support and it should be provided.

It's important to make sure that all your needs are recorded. Even if you complete the SAQ yourself, a social worker will need to go over the information you've provided with you.

Some local authorities use a computerised system called a 'resource allocation system' to determine an amount that should meet your needs. The computer comes up with a figure that is usually called an 'indicative budget'. They are allowed to do this, but the amount that the computer comes up with or the suggested indicative budget needs to be increased if it cannot meet your eligible needs.

The local authority are not allowed to just rely on the indicative budget meeting a person's eligible needs. 'Eligible needs' are those that the local authority has agreed you have and meet their eligibility criteria that they will meet by putting in services, support or a personal budget/direct payment.

What is a support plan?

Once the final amount required to provide the support you need has been agreed, you then write a support plan detailing how you would like your needs to be met by that amount.

You may need the support of family, a friend or social worker to write your support plan or you may prefer to write it alone. The social worker will need to check that the plan you have written will meet your eligible needs.

In Control is a charity that promotes more choice and control for disabled people over their care and support. You can find information on their website about the steps to being more in control of your support and support plan.

What is a direct payment?

A direct payment is a sum paid straight to you, so you can arrange and pay for the services that your assessment says you need yourself.

You may have chosen to receive your personal budget as a direct payment. The idea is that direct payments provide a person with more freedom and control over the community care services that they receive. For some people, this can lead to greater independence.

Are direct payments suitable for parents of autistic children?

Direct payments may be a suitable option for some families. Many families of autistic children feel that the services they are offered by the local authority do not entirely meet the needs of their child.

In areas where there are limited services, direct payments may be an option to create more choice. However, the payments must be to pay for the services that a child has been assessed as being in need of.

Here are some examples of how direct payments might be used if the child has eligible needs:

  • to pay a personal assistant to support your child when the family is, for example, going swimming or involved in another activity (if you have other children this could mean spending more time as a family without the worry of solely supervising your autistic child)
  • if your child has been assessed as needing respite, then direct payments could give you more flexibility as to who provides the respite care and when
  • if your child has been assessed as needing support in the home, then direct payments could provide you with the opportunity to employ a personal assistant at the times of the day when the support is most needed (for example, getting ready for school). This could be a friend or relative in some cases
  • to buy equipment
  • relaxation therapy or driving lessons may be a creative way in which direct payments can be used for carers.

Are direct payments suitable for autistic adults?

Direct payments may be a suitable option for some individuals. Many autistic adults feel that the services they are offered from the local authority do not entirely meet their needs.

In areas where there are limited services, direct payments may be an option to create more choice. However, the payments must be to pay for the services that the individual has been assessed as being in need of.

Here are some examples of what direct payments could be used to pay for if a person has eligible needs:

  • a personal assistant to support you at the times of day when you feel you need the support or to meet fluctuating needs
  • a support worker to accompany and support you, when you go on holiday
  • a personal assistant to help you to attend social groups
  • a family member or a friend to offer you support rather than a care worker from an agency (it's worth noting that you can't generally employ someone through a direct payment who lives with you to provide care. There are occasionally situations where the local authority will consider this).

Are direct payments right for me?

Direct payments will not be right for every family or individual but it is worth considering due to the flexibility that they offer.

You need to be fully aware of the implications of receiving direct payments in terms of becoming an employer and the responsibility that this brings.

Disability Rights UK has some useful factsheets on employing personal assistants. The responsibilities will include checking whether anyone you employ should be enrolled in a workplace pension scheme. Disability Rights has more information at: http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/individual-employers-and-workplace-pension-schemes-personal-assistants

Support with receiving direct payments

The local authority should make sure that you have access to the advice, support and training you need to receive direct payments.

Local authorities should have a direct payment support service to help those using direct payments with recruiting, payroll and other help needed with setting up and running a direct payment scheme. You will usually be given a start-up fund which will help cover the cost of administration and recruiting and on-going administration costs should be factored in.

Many families and individuals decide that they need support with being an employer and use some of this fund to pay the support service or a third party, such as a charity who can take on some of this role (such as payroll tasks). This may ease some of the pressure of becoming an employer.

Financial contribution

People receiving services from the local authority are sometimes required to contribute to the cost of care. As with receiving services you may be required to contribute towards the cost of the care purchased with direct payments.

These charges will be means tested. The LA should only assess your income once they have decided which services to offer, so your ability to pay should not influence their decisions about what you or your child needs. If you feel the charges are unreasonable or that it is not possible for you to pay them, then you should find out first how the charges were worked out. You may wish to ask for the amount to be reviewed and you should make clear any disability related expenditure that you have.

You may be able to challenge the amount through the complaints process if it hasn't been worked out correctly. Many local authorities do not charge for services provided to children.

What is a personal health budget?

A personal health budget is an amount of money agreed by the NHS to meet your needs that are funded by the NHS.

These are now offered to people who are receiving NHS continuing healthcare but aren't routinely offered to people not in receipt of NHS continuing healthcare yet.

You can read more about personal health budgets on the NHS website.

Personal budgets and direct payments in England

Guidance for adults

From April 2015, under the Care Act 2014, all adults in England who have been assessed as eligible for support from social services (including carers of adults) are required to have a personal budget.

This doesn't mean that the person is required to control the budget themselves or receive a direct payment, but that the amount of funding the local authority has allocated must be clear.

The statutory guidance which accompanies the Care Act 2014 states that the personal budget must always be an amount sufficient to meet the person's care and support needs, and must include the cost to the local authority of meeting the person's needs which the local authority is under a duty to meet, or has chosen to meet.

If the indicative amount that is first suggested isn’t enough to meet the person's needs, then the budget should be reviewed. Consideration should also be given as to whether the personal budget is sufficient where needs will be met via direct payments, especially around any other costs that may be required to meet needs or ensure people are complying with legal requirements associated with becoming an employer.

Local authorities are required to make people aware that direct payments are available and to promote their use. The Care and Support (Direct Payments) Regulations 2014 set out that the local authority must review the making of direct payments initially within six months, and thereafter every 12 months, and must not require information to be provided more often and in more detail than is reasonable. Monitoring should be proportionate to the needs to be met and the care package.

Read the sections of the Care Act 2014 statutory guidance that relate to personal budgets and direct payments.

Guidance for children

If your child has an Education and Health Care (EHC) plan then they will have the right to have a personal budget.

EHC plans have replaced Statements of Educational needs in England and children who have a statement of SEN will be transferring to EHC plans. The aim is for social services, health and education to work more closely together to meet the child’s needs. The Children and Families Act 2014 states that local authorities are required to prepare a personal budget for children or young people for whom the local authority maintains an EHC plan or has decided to make an EHC plan, if asked to do so by the child’s parent or the young person.

A personal budget is an amount available to secure particular provision set out in the EHC plan and provides a way of involving parents or young people in securing that provision. The Act states that personal budgets can take the form of:

  • direct payments which families can spend themselves, or
  • notional budgets which they can devise with the local authority and which the local authority can spend on their behalf at their direction by arranging the provision in the EHC plan, or 
  • a combination of both.

Read more about EHC plans.

Some local authorities in England now offer personal budgets for social care for children who don’t have an EHC plan, but this is not yet widespread. If your child is eligible for services and doesn’t have an EHC plan, then the local authority are required to offer you a direct payment as an option as long as the services you require can be purchased via a direct payment and they believe that the money can be adequately managed.

The charity Contact a Family have produced a useful guide to Personal Budgets and Direct payments for disabled children in England.

Personal Budgets and Direct Payments in Wales

Personal budgets are not yet an option in Wales. However direct payments are an option for many people. The Social Care and Wellbeing Act (Wales) 2015 which came into force in early April 2016 has placed more of a focus on direct payments. The Code of Practice which accompanies the Act makes the duties to offer direct payments clear.

Local authorities have powers to provide direct payments:

  • to meet the care and support needs of an adult
  • to meet the care and support needs of a child
  • to meet the support needs of a carer.

Where eligible care and support needs, or support needs in the case of a carer, have been identified and that individual, or their representative, expresses a wish to receive one, direct payments must be made available in all cases where they enable personal outcomes to be achieved.

A local authority must be innovative and creative when working in partnership with recipients or their representatives to explore ways a direct payment can be used to secure the personal outcomes.

Direct payments must only be refused where it is clear after extensive exploration that a direct payment would not secure the outcomes required. The code of practice is clear that people must not be refused a direct payment purely because they are unable to manage the payment, or are worried about managing one. The Code of Practice states:

A local authority, in partnership with the person, must explore all options for supporting the individual to manage a direct payment and where areas of difficulty are identified, local authorities must ensure the correct level of support to overcome such barriers is available’.

Direct payments can be provided for any identified need for care and support a local authority is to meet (but not to meet health care needs). This includes community care and support and short and long term residential care and support.

In developing care and support plans which are delivered via a direct payment, a local authority must be satisfied that the person's requirements and their personal outcomes can and will be met through this provision. Where a person’s needs fluctuate over time, a local authority must work in partnership with the individual, or their representative, to agree how the direct payment will be used to secure care and support that varies according to requirement. (The Social Care and Wellbeing Act (Wales) 2015 Code of Practice (Assessing Needs).

For more information about direct payments in Wales, read the full Code of Practice from page 24.

Personal Budgets and Direct Payments in Scotland

Personal Budgets aren’t a term used in Scotland. The Scottish Government introduced The Social Care (Self-directed Support) (Scotland) Act 2013.

The Act came into force on 1 April 2014 and places a duty on local authority social work departments to offer people who are eligible for social care a range of choices over how they receive their social care and support including direct payments.

This applies to adults, children and carers. These options are:

  • a direct payment (a cash payment)
  • funding allocated to a provider of your choice (sometimes called an individual service fund, where the council holds the budget but the person is in charge of how it is spent)
  • the council can arrange a service for you
  • or you can choose a mix of these options for different types of support.

If the local authority feel that a person isn’t eligible for direct payments they must give the reason why and offer one of the other means of receiving support above. The Act states that if the person’s circumstances change and they are no longer ineligible to receive a direct payment then the local authority must review and offer a direct payment.

The Scottish Government has set up a website explaining more about self directed support and direct payments.

You can use this directory to search for self directed support from not for profit providers (charities) in Scotland.

Personal Budgets and Direct Payments in Northern Ireland

Self Directed Support (personal budgets) are currently being rolled out across Northern Ireland for Adults (2015-2016). Read more.

Please contact your Health and Social Care Trust to find out if personal budgets are available in your area at the moment.

Direct Payments are widely available in Northern Ireland for both adults and children. The Carers and Direct Payments Act (NI) 2002 is the relevant legislation. Health and social care trusts have a power to provide direct payments to people with a parental responsibility for disabled or non-disabled child, to disabled people (including 16 and 17 year olds) to meet their assessed needs and to carers. (A ‘power’ means that the trust is able to provide direct payments but that they don’t have a duty to).

They also have a duty to provide a direct payment if someone who has been assessed as needing services requests direct payment and meets the conditions for receipt of a direct payment. These conditions include the person being able to manage the money themselves or with the assistance available to them and the Trust determining that the person’s needs can be met through a direct payment.

Some people are not permitted to receive direct payments such as those under a supervision and treatment order and people under a guardianship order. Contact your local Trust to find out more. (A ‘duty’ means that the Trust is required to provide a direct payment). You can read more about direct payments on the Carers UK website.

What to do if your local authority refuses you a direct payment

If your local authority (or Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland) states that you are eligible for services but that they won’t provide you with a direct payment, ask for the reason why in writing.

In some cases, there are legitimate reasons why a direct payment is refused. These may include past mismanagement of a direct payment, concerns that the person doesn’t have sufficient support to manage the money or if the agreed service can’t be funded by a direct payment (for example long term respite care).

In some cases, you may be able to reassure the local authority that you are able to manage the payment yourself or that you have the required support in place.

If the reasons given do not seem reasonable and the local authority continue to refuse, you have the right to challenge the decision via the local authority complaints procedure.

Find out more about the complaints processes for each nation.

Useful contacts

Quick link to this page: www.autism.org.uk/directpayments. Last reviewed 24 August 2016.