This page explains the rules surrounding direct payments by the local authority to help with meeting a child’s needs.
Direct payments are monetary payments made by the Local Authority to assist with meeting a child or young person's needs
Direct payments are monetary payments made by a relevant body as an alternative to services provided. Direct payments can relate to a child's Educational needs, Social Care needs or Health needs. Each of these are treated differently and are subject to different regulations.
What are direct payments for education?
Direct payments for education are monetary payments to the parents of a child with an Education, Health & Social Care Plan (EHCP) or to the young person where suitable to do so. Direct payments are an alternative to receiving goods and services that form the special educational provision specified in an EHCP. This element of direct payments funding is dependent on what is available.
Who can receive direct payments for education?
Where a child or young person has an Education, Health & Social Care Plan, direct payments can be made to:
- A person who is a parent of the child
- The young person if they are over 16
- A nominee who has been nominated in writing by the child's parent or young person to receive the direct payments on their behalf.
In each case, direct payments may only be made to a person if it appears to the Local Authority that they are capable of managing direct payments without assistance, or with such assistance as may be available to them. The person must also be over compulsory school age and have capacity to consent to the making of direct payments to them.
Specific criminal convictions relating to drugs or alcohol will prohibit a person from receiving such payments. If you believe this may affect you the Schedule attached to the Special Educational Needs (Personal Budgets & Direct Payments) Regulations 2014 lists all the persons to whom direct payments may not be made. You can read it here.
A parent or young person may request from the local authority a personal budget
What must a Personal Budget policy contain?
The law and the guidance on Personal Budgets allows local authorities to determine how they will approach personal budgets and make their own policies on it. The policy must contain;
- A description of the Education, Health and Social care provision which could be included within the Personal Budget.
- The options of controlling the Personal Budget:
- Direct payments – where the young person/parents buy and arrange the services themselves;
- An arrangement – where the local authority, school or college hold the funds and arranges the services (also known as notional budgets);
- Third party arrangements – where the funding is paid to a person or organisation who acts on behalf of the parents or young person;
- A combination of the above.
- A clear explanation of how someone would be eligible for personal budgets and the various options for control the budget
The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) can consider a complaint about a Personal Budget; guidance on what the LGO can look into can be found here.
How do I apply for direct payments for education?
The local authority must make available information relating to the provision of direct payments. This information must state the condition which must be met before a direct payment may be made, and details about organisations that may be able to provide advice and assistance to the parent or young person in relation to direct payments.
A parent or young person may request from the local authority a personal budget, including direct payments at any time during which the draft Education, Health & Social Care Plan is being prepared, reviewed or re-assessed.
Before deciding to make direct payments, the local authority must be satisfied that the proposals for use of the direct payments by the person receiving them are appropriate. Where a parent or nominee is to receive direct payments, the Local Authority must be satisfied that person will act in the best interests of the child.
A Local Authority may refuse to issue direct payments if this will have an adverse impact on other services which the Local Authority provides or arranges for children and young people with an Education, Health & Social Care Plan, or if securing the agreed provision by means of direct payment is incompatible with the efficient use of the authority's resources.
Where a Local Authority decides not to make direct payments, it must inform the parent or young person of its decision in writing, giving reasons and informing the person of their right to request a review of the decision. Where requested, the Local Authority must review its decision and in carrying out the review consider any representation made by the parent or young person. The Local Authority must provide in writing the outcome of the review, and state its reasons.
Can I appeal a refusal for Direct Payments?
You can challenge a decision not to make direct payments by Judicial Review and should seek independent advice from a solicitor on this. If you qualify for legal aid you may be able to get help with the costs and should contact Civil Legal Advice.
The SEN Tribunal does not have jurisdiction to hear appeals about Direct Payments.
What happens when my child reaches the age of 16?
When a child in respect of whom direct payments are being made becomes a young person, the Local Authority must take reasonable steps to ascertain whether the young person would like to receive and manage direct payments themselves. The young person can request the direct payments are made to themselves, or that they continue to be paid to the young person's parent or that parent's nominee. The young person may also notify the Local Authority that they do not consent to the making of direct payments. In this case, the Local Authority must stop the direct payments as soon as reasonably practical.
What are direct payments for Social Care?
Direct payments for Social Care are monetary payments made by the Local Authority to anyone who has Parental Responsibility for a child or a young person with disabilities. Direct payments must be offered as an alternative to receiving services from the Local Authority. The payments can then be used in a number of ways to provide care and support services for the disabled child or young person. The system may provide added flexibility for the parent or carer to choose and arrange the services or support they feel most appropriate, at home or when out and about.
Who can receive direct payments for Social Care?
Those with Parental Responsibility for a disabled child under 16
A person with Parental Responsibility can receive direct payments for a disabled child or young person if they have been assessed by the Local Authority as eligible for a service. An assessment of the needs will have been carried out by the Local Authority prior to the parent or carer's application for direct payments. The assessment must take into account the needs of the family as a whole unit, rather than just the needs of the child or young person.
If a disabled child or young person is not receiving the appropriate services from the Local Authority or their needs have changed, a reassessment should be requested.
Disabled young people aged 16 or 17
A disabled young person aged 16 or 17 can receive direct payments (money or vouchers) if they are assessed by the Local Authority as being eligible. Direct payments are given to 16 and 17 year old disabled children directly rather than to their parents or carers. The young person can then decide which services to use. This only applies if the young person is considered “competent" to organise their own care.
How do I apply for direct payments for social care?
Anyone who is currently in receipt of services from the local council may be able to request direct payments as an alternative to those services. The Local Authority can supply more information on how to do this, and also how to apply for an assessment of the child or young person's needs.
When are direct payments the right option?
There are a number of reasons why direct payments may be a better option than receiving direct services from the Local Authority, including:
- Distance from services - if a disabled child or young person lives in a remote location it may be more practical to arrange for services closer to home.
- More flexibility - to decide which services are necessary can be in the interests of the child and the carer.
- Waiting lists - there may be a waiting list for direct services from the Local Authority whilst it is be possible to obtain the same service from another source.
What can direct payments be used for?
Direct payments may be used for various services that provide additional support. For parents or carers of a disabled child under 16 these services include:
- Short residential breaks.
- Employing someone to assist with the care.
- A sitter service.
- A placement at a day nursery or an after-school club.
- Respite care.
- Additional equipment.
For disabled young people between the ages of 16 and 17 the direct payment may be used to purchase equipment necessary to meet their needs as set out in the Local Authority assessment. It is also possible for the payment to be used to employ someone who can assist with their care.
What can't direct payments be used for?
Direct payments cannot be used to employ someone who is already resident in the same household, for example another parent or sibling, unless that person has been specifically employed as a live-in care assistant.
Direct payments from the Local Authority can only be used to pay for services that will meet the needs of the disabled child or young person as assessed by that Authority.
Once the Local Authority has carried out an assessment, they must decide whether there is a need for support
What happens after an assessment for direct payments?
Once the Local Authority has carried out an assessment, they must decide whether there is a need for support. If they agree that services are needed, they should set out a 'care plan' which outlines the support required.
At this point you should have an option to:
- Ask the Local Authority to provide care that will meet all of the needs identified in the care plan; or
- Ask for direct payments so that you can buy services to meet the assessed needs; or
- Opt for a mixed package, where social services provide some of the care and you use direct payments to buy the rest.
If the Local Authority does not accept that your child needs support they will not offer you direct payments. If you disagree with their assessments, you can challenge this via their complaints procedure.
What should I do when I start receiving payments?
- Keep a record of how your direct payments have been spent
- Before you receive direct payments social services are likely to ask you to sign an agreement stating you will only use the money to meet your child's assessed needs. Thereafter you are likely to be asked to provide them with information about how you have spent your direct payments. It is advisable to keep receipts of anything you use the direct payments for. The Local Authority will inform you of any other information you will be required to provide
- Keep social services informed; if the Local Authority is unhappy about how you have spent your direct payments, for instance, if it wasn't used to meet the needs they agreed to, they can ask for the money to be repaid. We suggest you always inform your social worker if you intend to make any changed to the services you buy.
What are direct payments for health services?
Direct payments for health services are monetary payments made by a health body to a person as an alternative to services provided by the National Health Service and it is appropriate to that person's condition. The details of such direct payments are beyond the scope of Family, Child and Education law and as such are not covered by this information page. The relevant provisions can be found in the National Health Service (Direct Payments) Regulations 2013 which you can read here.