At the moment, our information about paying for care services applies to England only. We are updating our information to make it relevant for people living in Scotland and Wales. In the meantime, please visit Age Scotland or Age Cymru.
If your council are paying for some or all of your care, they’ll give you a personal budget. This is the amount of money that the council thinks is needed to meet your care needs. You should have choice and control over how this budget is spent to get the care that suits you best.
What is a personal budget?
If your local council is going to help arrange your care, you have the right to know how much money they have calculated will be needed to meet your care needs. This is called your personal budget.
Your personal budget must be high enough to meet your eligible care needs and any other needs that your council decides should be met. The council will not necessarily provide the total amount of money needed for your personal budget. Depending on your financial situation, you may have to contribute some of your own money towards this.
Your local council must recommend the best way to meet your needs. But you should be fully involved in a final decision. You can use your personal budget to organise your care in a way and at times that make sense to you as long as it meets your eligible needs. For example, you could:
buy equipment and services
employ someone to provide care for you at home
employ someone to help you do things outside your home.
If the council is helping to provide your care, you must be given a personal budget.
Start by getting a care needs assessment, which looks at your needs to decide if you qualify for support. If you do qualify, you'll usually have a separate financial assessment to see whether the council will pay towards your care. This works differently depending on if you're paying for a care home or for care services at home.
Even if you may be paying for your care yourself, you should still have a care needs assessment as your situation might change in the future. It's also helpful to know the amount the council thinks would meet your eligible care needs, because it can give you an idea of what you should expect to pay for your care.
If you already receive care services from your council, they should have told you what your personal budget is. You can ask for a review if:
you haven’t had a review of your care within the last 12 months
your needs have changed and you want support in a different way.
If you disagree with the council’s assessment or review of your care needs, or your allocated personal budget, you can ask them to reconsider the decision. Or you can make a complaint using the council’s complaints procedure.
Planning your care and support
Your personal budget will show how much the council is paying towards your care and how much you may have to pay. The overall amount must be high enough to meet your eligible needs. The next step is to put together your care plan with the help of the assessor. The care plan should include:
your personal budget amount
your qualifying care needs
what you want to achieve in your day-to-day life, such as being able to go out more
how your support will be organised, such as the type of services you will get and who will organise them
how you'll receive your personal budget, for example, direct payments.
You may want the support of an independent advocate to help you express your wishes if you have difficulty with this. In some cases, the council must arrange an advocate for you.
Ways to receive the money
How you manage your personal budget is up to you. You can choose to receive the council's contribution towards it in a number of ways, including:
direct payments – you receive the money from the council and buy your own support services, for example, by employing a personal assistant
managed budgets – the council manages the money and arranges services for you, but you’re involved as much possible in deciding how it’s spent
individual service funds (ISF) – you make the decisions, but a separate service provider manages the money and the practical side of things.
You can also choose to have a combination of these. The council must agree with your choice and should help you make a decision.
You could use a support planning service (also called a brokerage service). Some voluntary organisations offer them. If the support planning service isn’t free, the cost should be included as part of your personal budget. Ask your council for details of services in your area.
If you’re receiving care in a care home or other setting where housing is provided, you must also be given a personal budget and a care plan, but you can’t receive direct payments.
If you employ someone
If you decide to use your direct payments to employ someone as a care worker (also called a personal assistant) you will have some legal responsibilities as an employer. These include:
providing contracts and terms of employment
paying the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage
deducting tax and National Insurance
managing holiday and sick pay
following health and safety legislation
possibly enrolling your care worker in a pension scheme.
Your council should provide you with details of local organisations that can give you advice about becoming an employer and help you to find a suitable carer. Or you could contact Disability Rights UK.
If someone lacks mental capacity
People who lack mental capacity to make their own decisions about their care are still entitled to direct payments. A suitable person must ask on their behalf. That could be a family member, someone with power of attorney or a deputy appointed by the Court of Protection. The council must decide if the person is suitable. The council should also find out from the person without mental capacity what sort of care they want, as far as possible.
Personal budgets for carers
If you are a carer, you should start by having a carer’s assessment. If you qualify for help in your caring role and the council pays for some or all of your support, you're also entitled to a personal budget. You can’t use your personal budget to buy services for the person you’re caring for. For more information, see our guide Caring for someone.