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Direct payments

Direct payments are sums of money paid to the parents (or carers) of a disabled child. These payments are to assist in funding services or support that their child needs.

The advantage of direct payments is that they give parents more control over how their child’s needs are met.

Direct payments are not exclusive to services for disabled children. They can be used to deliver services to other people, including disabled adults and older people.
Disabled 16 and 17-year-olds can apply for direct payments in their own right.

Direct payments can be used for social care services. They can also be used for some special educational provision and health care.

For example, direct payments can be used for:

  • Help with a child’s personal care (e.g. washing, dressing and eating).
  • A nursery place or after-school care.
  • A ‘sitter’ service (so the parent can go out).
  • Support for the child to take part in leisure activities.
  • Someone to accompany a child on days out.

Direct payments are one way of delivering a personal budget. The parent or carer of any child who has an education, health and care plan can ask for a personal budget.

Different regulations cover direct payments in relation to social care, education and health. While they have elements in common, the rules are different for each.

  • Social care. Children’s services must offer direct payments to any child with disabilities assessed as needing support as a child in need. They will be a child in need under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. If a child already receives social care services, then the parent has a right to ask for direct payments instead.
  • Education. There are additional rules relating to the use of direct payments for special educational provision. The local authority can refuse a direct payment if it thinks issuing one would have an adverse impact on services provided to disabled children. Or if it thinks that it would be an inefficient use of resources. Direct payments can be used to purchase a service delivered on school premises. The headteacher will need to agree to this.
  • Health. There is provision in law for health care services to be bought via direct payments. There is no duty to offer them to someone who has a personal health budget. In practice, what happens will depend on local arrangements.

Direct payments for health services are likely to become more common in the future. This is because health services are more routinely included within the scope of personal budgets offered to children with education, health and care plans.

Some people (e.g. people being treated for drug or alcohol abuse) are excluded from receiving direct payments. A local authority must be satisfied that the person who will receive direct payments is capable of managing the money and will act in the child’s best interests.

For more information see:

Personal budgets
Personal health budgets

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