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Direct Payments Briefing




What are Direct Payments?

Direct Payments is money paid by the local authority directly to a person whom it has assessed as needing community care services. The local authority makes the payment instead of arranging services, allowing people to purchase services to meet their own community care needs.

Under existing legislation local authorities are able to make Direct Payments to disabled people with community care needs, people over 65, 16 and 17 year olds, and disabled parents to assist them in their parenting role.

The Community Care and Health (Scotland) Act 2002

In 2003 provisions in the Community Care and Health (Scotland) Act introduce changes to the existing system of Direct Payments.

  • Local authorities will have a duty to offer direct payments to people eligible and willing to receive them who require community care services by 1 June 2003
  • Direct Payments will become available to all community care client groups on 1 April 2004
  • Recipients of direct payments will be able to purchase care services from local authorities on 1 June 2003. Currently local authorities are not allowed to sell their services to Direct Payments recipients.
  • A representative will be able to consent to, set up, vary and receive Direct Payments on behalf of a person who is unable to give consent him/herself. This will mean that attorneys and guardians with the relevant powers will be able to make the necessary arrangements to ensure that a person can receive Direct Payments. This provision is aimed to increase uptake amongst people with mental health problems or learning difficulties. Parents will also be allowed to consent to Direct Payments to purchase the services their children are assessed as needing. This provision will be commenced on 1 June 2003.
  • Direct Payments will still require a personal contribution from some recipients however the new legislation will make clear that payments can be made on a "gross" basis and the user's contribution recovered later. The Act gives authorities a mechanism to recover the amount it has assessed a person as being able to contribute from 1 June 2003.

Impact of the changes

All persons will now be eligible for Direct Payments except those specified by regulations. This widens the scope of the Direct Payments scheme to all community care client groups including people who are frail, require rehabilitation treatment following accidents or operations, are fleeing domestic abuse or recovering from drug or alcohol addiction.

Local authorities will have a duty rather than a power to offer Direct Payments as an alternative to arranging services only if that person gives his or her consent to the arrangement.

Currently if a local authority believes that a person is unable to consent to direct payment arrangements it cannot offer the services. The new system allows for a person to consent to direct payment arrangements on behalf of a person whom the local authority is satisfied is unable to give consent.

Direct Payments Scotland

Direct Payments Scotland has been established with funding from the Scottish Executive to increase the uptake of direct payments in Scotland.

Its core aims are:

  • Increase awareness of direct payments amongst community care users, local authority staff and service providers
  • Establish and develop user-led support organisations
  • Establish a national information service and provide good practice exchange
  • Identify and address training needs for support staff and local authority staff.

Issues for UNISON

Whilst recognising the need to empower people to make their own community care decisions, UNISON Scotland has a range of concerns relating to:

  1. How local authorities respond to the new Direct Payments system.
  2. The organisation and delivery of the new system.
  3. The impact on UNISON members working in care services in the public, private, voluntary and independent sectors.

Our concerns include:

  • Are local authorities and their staff geared up to respond to the changes to Direct Payments, in administering, service provision, and meeting the needs of clients purchasing community care from local authorities?
  • The ability of recipients to successfully arrange services to meet their needs. An evaluation pilot scheme in Glasgow Social Work concluded that recipients had difficulty in finding a personal care assistant suitable to their needs.
  • Will recipients opt to keep some or all of the cash instead of purchasing services? The Glasgow pilot also indicated that recipients needed greater support in managing and utilising Direct Payments.
  • Direct Payments do not allow recipients to offer decent rates of pay to personal assistants. There are also a number of employment rights issues on the impact of recipients as "employers" of personal assistants providing care to them.
  • Will public services be adversely affected by recipients choosing alternative provision?
  • How will the services provided under Direct Payments be regulated?
  • Is Direct Payments being more widely promoted as a way of cutting costs?
  • How will this impact on members providing care services in the voluntary and independent sectors?

Action for Branches

  • Check what provisions your local authority / private / voluntary sector employer has in place in preparation for Direct Payments.
  • Ensure that appropriate training and awareness for staff in social work and community care services is taking place.
  • Ensure that Direct Payment recipients are receiving support and assistance to enable them to make appropriate choices, and that they get support where they are acting as employers to personal assistants.
  • Raise UNISON's concerns on Direct Payments with local authority employers, with local councillors, MSPs and MPs.


Further Information:

Direct Payments Scotland:

Scottish Executive:


Contacts list:

Dave Watson - d.watson@unison.co.uk

@ The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Glasgow G26RX
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572

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Further Information

Direct Payments Scotland:

Scottish Executive:

Contacts list:

Dave Watson -

@ The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Glasgow G26RX
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572