Direct payments for autistic children
Parent and carer support School issues and support

A beginner’s guide to personal budgets and direct payments

Is your child entitled to a personal budget to help cover the costs of their education, health and care needs? What is a personal budget and is it different from a direct payment? As a parent or carer of an autistic child, understanding what personal budgets and direct payments are, whether your child is entitled to them, how to apply for them or, indeed, what they can actually be used for, can be really difficult. There is a lot of information out there and not all of it is clear and easy to understand. 

What is a personal budget?

A personal budget is the amount of money a local authority sets aside to spend on an individual’s health and social care needs if they need extra support. This can apply to disabled children or adults, people with long term illnesses or older people who need extra care. If the individual is a child or young person, a personal budget includes any extra money needed to ensure their educational needs are met as well.

A personal budget is one pot of money managed by the local council; the amount in each person’s pot and how it should be spent is agreed by the council depending on the individual’s needs. The amount agreed in the personal budget can be paid to different departments or individuals, depending how the council agrees the money should be spent. This is all worked out by doing a ‘needs assessment’.

How do personal budgets work for autistic children and young people?

As part of an EHCP

In the case of autistic children and young people, if it is agreed they need an EHCP (an Education, Health and Care plan), a personal budget can be requested and agreed on as part of the EHCP process. It will pay for the costs of meeting any additional needs your child has stated in the plan. 

Money for your child’s education will usually be paid directly to their school. The school will usually be expected to use some of their existing budget from the council to meet your child’s education needs, but they may get a top up from the personal budget if it is agreed your child needs more specialist therapies and interventions at school.

If your child has additional health needs, for example, if they have an additional disability other than autism, or a long term illness, this will be included in the EHCP. Money from your child’s personal budget to meet health needs will usually be paid to the local NHS health commissioning body.

If it is identified that your child has additional social care needs outside of school, these will also be included in the EHCP. Any budget agreed to meet your child’s social care needs can be used in lots of different ways, and is sometimes paid as a direct payment to the child’s parent or carer. 

What is a direct payment?

This is where things can get confusing; some people call a direct payment a personal budget, but it isn’t. A direct payment is a part of a personal budget that can be paid to a young person’s parent or carer to help cover the costs of additional support needed outside of school in order to meet the child’s needs agreed in their EHCP. 

What can a direct payment be used for?

It can be used for lots of different things, too many to list here! Some of the most common ways they are used by parents and carers of disabled children are:

  • Paying for a carer or personal assistant to care for your child in the home or take them out in the local community.
  • Equipment, aids and adaptations to help your child with everyday tasks .
  • Activities to help your child get out and engage with others and the local community.

Does my child need an EHCP to be considered for direct payments?

The short answer is no. If your child receives ongoing care from the NHS for a medical issue, is registered as disabled, or is classed as a Child in Need by their local social care team, you are entitled to ask your local council for a needs assessment for direct payments. 

How do I apply for one? 

If you are in the process of applying for an EHCP, or getting an existing EHCP amended because your child’s needs have changed, you can request a personal budget to be included if it hasn’t been already and ask for a needs assessment for direct payments. 

If you are not applying for an EHCP or your child is not entitled to one, but they meet the other criteria, you can apply directly to the council for a needs assessment.

What if my application is refused or I do not agree with the council about any aspect of the personal budget or direct payment? 

You may be refused a personal budget and / or a direct payment, you may not agree with how the council thinks the money should be spent, or the council may want to change the personal budget or direct payment amount or stop the payment(s) altogether. The reasons should always be given to you in writing. 

If you do not agree with the council’s decision you have the right to complain or appeal directly to your local council. An independent advocacy service can help you. In Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset you can get independent support and advice about direct payments and personal budgets from Supportive Parents. Nationally, Contact can provide advice on legal issues affecting parents and carers of disabled children

Further reading and help