Who Controls the Purse Strings? The Role of Representative Payees

February 20, 2018

Social Security may appoint someone to receive and manage a person’s Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits payments on their behalf. This designated person or organization is known as a representative payee.

At Nash Disability Law, we find that many people are confused about the representative payee system and how it works. To help clear up any misconceptions, let us answer some of the commonly asked questions about representative payees:

Why do I need a representative payee?

Social Security will decide that you need a payee if it believes that you need help in managing your money. This may be due to the nature of your health problems, or for other reasons.

Who are selected as representative payees?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) says on ssa.gov: “Generally, we look for family or friends to serve as representative payees. When friends or family are not able to serve as payees, Social Security looks for qualified organizations to be representative payees.” In our experience, we know that clients don’t always like the idea of another person or organization controlling their money, because the recipient has no access to it—only the payee has access. However, Social Security makes the decision on appointing a representative payee. Your attorney has no control over whether a representative payee is mandated or who will be appointed as the representative payee.

The Social Security Administration is looking for individuals or organizations that are willing to serve as representative payees for some of its most vulnerable clients. On its website, ssa.gov, the SSA notes that there is “a critical shortage of payees”.

What are the responsibilities?

A representative payee must use the SSDI or SSI benefits to pay for the needs of the beneficiary. These needs could include payment for food, shelter, clothes, medical care and personal comfort items. If there is any remaining money after meeting the beneficiary’s needs, it must be deposited in an interest bearing account for the beneficiary’s future needs. The representative payee must give the SAA an annual written account of how the money was spent. We strongly advise that from the beginning, the representative payee keep precise written records of payments received and how they are spent or saved.

In addition, a representative payee must report to the SSA any events that could change the payment amount, or affect the eligibility of the beneficiary to receive benefits. Similarly, a payee must also inform the SSA if there are changes that might affect their ability to act as a representative payee. If the beneficiary should receive any payments they are not entitled to, the representative payee must return that money to the Social Security Administration.

To help you learn the responsibilities of a representative payee, the SSA has an online webinar, “Social Security Needs Your Help to Find Good Representative Payees”, to explain the basic duties expected of representative payees.

How can you become a representative payee?

You can apply to be a representative payee by contacting your local Social Security office and submitting an application with Form SSA-11-BK. You may need to participate in a face-to-face interview to be approved. An attorney cannot appoint a representative payee.

Is a representative payee the same as a power of attorney?

No. The SSA will not designate a person as a representative payee just because they have power of attorney. A separate application process is required.

What should I do if I think my representative payee is misusing or stealing my benefits?

The SSA says, “Tell [us] right away. We will investigate all allegations of misuse, gather facts and evidence, and make a decision on whether misuse has occurred. You will receive a letter from SSA telling you what we found out. If we find misuse, SSA may find a new representative payee for you or pay you directly. We will then take action to recover the misused money.” If there is a change in payee representatives, benefits checks may be delayed for a couple of months.

What if I think I no longer need a representative payee?

You always have the right to receive your own benefits unless SSA determines that you are incapable of managing your own money. If you have a representative payee and you wish to become your own payee, you must prove to the SSA that you are now mentally and physically able to handle your money by yourself. As proof, you could provide:

  • Evidence that shows you are paying your rent or other bills, or
  • A doctor’s statement which states there has been an improvement in your condition and the doctor believes you are now able to manage your own finances, or
  • A court order saying that the court believes you are capable of caring for yourself.

But, keep in mind that if your condition has improved such that you do not need a payee, this could be used to reconsider your disability claim.

The attorneys and staff at Nash Disability Law have years of experience in providing advice and representation in Social Security Disability claims. Don’t let a concern over a payee or other issue stop you from seeking the benefits you deserve. Contact your local Chicago attorney at NDL today.