direct payments

Direct Payments are a way of giving more choice and control to disabled children and their families about the services they use. Parents can be given money to pay for and arrange services for their child, as an alternative to those their local authority offers.

You and your child arrange how, when and where support services fit best into your lives. Direct Payments for disabled children were introduced in the Carers and Disabled Children Act (2000) and each year more parents are choosing to take them up.

How do you get Direct Payments?

First, your child will need to have been assessed as needing a service. If your child isn’t currently getting any services and you think they may be entitled to some, you can request that a needs assessment be performed. Find out more about needs assessments.

In Brighton and Hove you can contact the Specialist Community Disability Service  on 01273 295550 to request an assessment, or in East Sussex you can contact Children’s Disability Social Care and Respite on 01323 464222. If your child is over 18, you will need to contact the Adult Social Care Team instead.

You can use Direct Payments to employ someone to care for your child (often called a Personal Assistant or PA) or to buy into a local service, like a day nursery, an after school club, holiday play scheme or even a residential short break unit but you can’t use it to buy into a service run by your council. Unless there are exceptional circumstances you cannot use Direct Payments to employ a close relative who lives in your household, although you can use it to employ a relative who lives elsewhere.

If your child is assessed as needing a service, you cannot be refused Direct Payments if this is your choice. Local authorities have a duty to offer Direct Payments: the law says they must tell you about Direct Payments and support you if you wish to take these up. Locally, if you are already getting services, your child’s social worker should have told you about this alternative to accepting services run by the local authority.

Are Direct Payments for you?

Direct Payments are ideal for parents who want more control over the support for their child. They are worth thinking about if your child has been assessed for a service but has been on a waiting list and getting no help for a long time. Direct Payments may also be right for you if you and your child don’t have a say about how the services you use are run and you always feel as if you are fitting in with what they can offer, rather than getting your family’s needs met.

Direct payments need not be scary

Direct Payments does mean extra work but the rewards can be very great. These are some of the issues that worry parents about arranging support for their child:

Asking for what you need
It makes sense to make a detailed record of how many hours and what sort of help your child needs on a daily or weekly basis to do the sorts of things that other children their age who are not disabled would expect to be able to do. Be clear how much of this need you cannot meet and how much of a break you both need from each other. You may need to do this on a daily, weekly or monthly basis but plan it out for the whole year and remember about school holidays. This will give you an idea of the number of hours you need. All families have different needs: what other families get is irrelevant.

The amount of money you will get should be the equivalent to the cost of that service, run by the council. If there is no local authority service, you may have to negotiate over how much that service would realistically cost to provide. Local authorities MUST make payments at a rate that covers the reasonable cost of buying in a service to meet your family’s assessed needs. There should not be a standard rate that is offered to everyone on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis.

You will have legal obligations as an employer and the amount you get must cover things like National Insurance payments, holiday and sick pay as well as basic pay. Remember, you really need to negotiate on the basis of a 56-week year: anyone you employ has an entitlement to 4 weeks paid holiday and you will need someone else to cover while they are away, and they will need to be paid too.

Finding the right people
Finding the best people to support your child is really important. You have several options to look for a carer for your child, including:

You can’t meet everyone who replies to an ad but if you ask the right questions, you can tell a lot about a person from their application. It’s worth remembering that parents and disabled children and young people have the legal right to disregard discrimination laws, if you want a male carer or a younger person for example.

Being an employer
If writing a job description, advertising and recruitment all feels a bit overwhelming there are some very helpful guides to make the process less daunting for both parents and young people. For good information on Direct Payments visit the Carers UK website.

Locally, the company People Plus (formerly A4E) runs a Direct Payments Service that supports parents of disabled children and disabled adults using Direct Payments. They can help with issues like finding or recruiting a PA, training for a PA, or tax and insurance. They can also give advice and support about being an employer, and payroll services. You can contact them on 01323 414674.

Managing the responsibilities of being an employer is often our biggest worry but this doesn’t need to be complicated. Using as little paper as possible is often best. Because you are not being paid and are just effectively receiving and handing out money you don’t need to act as a business employer.

Managing deductions for tax, National Insurance contributions, holiday and sick pay is fairly straightforward if you use the HMRC guidance and online system. To find out how to get started, visit Alternatively, People Plus offers payroll services that can take care of this for you.

Keeping track of how you are spending the money doesn’t need to be a burden. You will need to open a bank account just for Direct Payments and, of course, it’s important you keep receipts and bank statements. The law says that local authorities must check that the money you are given is used for what has been agreed. So using Direct Payments does require you to keep accounts and records of how the money is spent. But you should not have to make weekly or even monthly returns if this doesn’t make sense in your circumstances. 


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