In certain situations, SSA will send your benefit payments to a "representative payee" instead of to you. For children under 18 (unless emancipated) and for adults who are unable to manage their own benefits, SSA requires that benefits be paid to a representative payee. For adults, SSA should base its decision to require a representative payee on medical evidence or another sound basis, like a court finding that the recipient is unable to manage their own funds.
Representative payee responsibilities
A representative payee is required to use your monthly benefit to pay your expenses each month, including rent, utilities, telephone, food, clothing, transportation costs, medical co-pays, etc. If the benefit payments exceed your needs, the payee is required to save the extra money in a safe manner, like savings bonds or a savings account, separate from the payee's own funds. SSA requires payees to file periodic reports explaining how the money has been spent or invested, and can require receipts or other proof.
A payee must notify SSA of any facts that may affect your eligibility for benefits or the amount of benefits. This includes other sources of income that you receive, changes in address or work activity, death, marriage, or if you move to or from a hospital, nursing home or other institution. You need to report these changes to SSA yourself if the payee does not do so. SSA can hold a payee personally responsible for benefits that were overpaid to you because of the payee's failure to notify SSA of this information.
Selecting the representative payee for a child
For a child with a disability, the natural or adoptive parent or legal guardian caring for the child is the preferred payee. If that person is not appropriate, SSA may consider another relative or friend who is not living with the child but who is helping support the child or who is otherwise strongly concerned with the child's well-being. If no such person is available, SSA may appoint a social service agency or institution as the payee.
A representative payee caring for a child who receives SSI has the responsibility to make sure that the child receives medically necessary care for the disabling condition. SSA can remove the payee if he or she fails to seek this care without good cause.
Selecting the representative payee for an adult
You have the right to request that a person you choose be appointed as your representative payee. Although there are no specific qualifications that a representative payee must have, the payee cannot have been convicted of certain felonies. The payee should be someone who sees you on a regular basis and who you can easily contact if you need something. SSA has guidelines ranking the potential payees and generally prefers a spouse or other relative who lives with you or who has a strong concern for your well-being. If no such person is available, SSA will consider making a close friend the payee or appointing an agency or institution as the payee. If you feel that you do not need a payee or if you object to the proposed payee, you may ask to review the evidence used to make the decision and you may present more information to SSA. You will then receive a written determination. If you disagree with the determination, you may request an appeal.
Paying a social service agency to be the representative payee
It is sometimes difficult for SSDI or SSI recipients to find someone who is willing and able to be their payee. When that happens, a social service agency may be available to be the payee. In order to encourage these agencies to serve as payees, SSA will allow them to charge a fee of up to 10% of the recipient's total monthly benefit, with a maximum of $41 per month in most cases. The agency must get written approval from SSA before it can collect any fee.
The SSA rules do not allow any type of payee other than an approved social service agency to collect any fee for their services as payee.
Changing the representative payee
SSA may appoint a new payee if the payee dies, becomes unable to serve, or no longer wishes to be the payee. Also, SSA may remove the payee if the payee fails to properly serve your interest, or if a more appropriate person becomes available to serve as your payee. You should notify your local SSA office if you feel the payee should be changed. Your benefits may be interrupted if your payee is removed and a new one is not immediately available to take his or her place.
Ending Representative Payment
At any time, you can ask the SSA to terminate representative payment if you can show that you are physically and mentally capable of handling your own funds. You will be required to present a statement from your doctor or other proof. If you have a legal guardian of your estate, SSA cannot stop representative payment unless you obtain a court order restoring your legal right to handle your funds. SSA may also reevaluate your eligibility for SSDA or SSI benefits based on the new evidence that your provide of your improved condition.
Updated: January 2017