What Does a Social Security Representative Payee Do?

A Social Security representative payee helps someone who is disabled to manage their benefits.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

About 10% of all Social Security and SSI recipients use a representative payee to help in managing their financial affairs. If you need one, Social Security will help select a potential representative payee. Once a payee is chosen and investigated, Social Security will begin sending your Social Security disability benefit checks to the representative payee.

Social Security prefers to choose someone who lives with the disabled person and knows what their needs are, such as a parent or other family member. If there isn't a qualified person living with you, Social Security will likely appoint one of the following people to serve as your payee:

  • a relative who doesn't live with you
  • a friend
  • a legal guardian, or
  • a lawyer.

This article will explain what a Social Security payee does, what's required of a payee, and how to change your representative payee if needed.

Who Needs a Social Security Representative Payee?

Anyone receiving Social Security disability benefits who needs help managing their money could have a representative payee. But the following disability recipients are required to have a Social Security representative payee:

  • minors
  • adults declared legally incompetent, and
  • adults who have drug or alcohol problems.

What Does a Social Security Payee Do?

Your representative payee receives your disability payments and manages how that money is spent. Your Social Security payee must:

  • spend your disability benefits appropriately for your needs
  • properly account for the money spent, and
  • report certain changes in your life or living situation to the Social Security Administration (SSA).

But being appointed as your representative payee doesn't grant the payee any power to control your other assets.

How Your Representative Payee Must Spend Your Disability Benefits

Your representative payee must deposit your benefits in a checking or savings account created for that purpose (not a joint account). Your payee must use the money to pay for your:

  • housing
  • food
  • clothing
  • utilities
  • medical and dental expenses, and
  • personal care items.

If there's money left over, it can be used to pay for your other expenses, such as:

  • rehabilitation
  • education
  • past-due bills
  • family expenses, or
  • entertainment (for you), like movie tickets or video game downloads.

After that, any remaining money (for example, from a large backpay payment from Social Security) should be saved in an interest-bearing account.

For more information, see our article on what a representative payee can and can't buy.

Your Representative Payee's Annual Accounting to Social Security

Your representative payee must keep track of how all your money is spent. And most payees will need to file an annual accounting with the Social Security Administration. The payee should keep track of income and spending details, including:

  • the month money was received and spent
  • the amount of money received, and
  • payments made for food, shelter, and other costs.

At the end of the year, Social Security will send your payee the Representative Payee Report (Form SSA-623, SSA-6230, or SSA-6233). Your payee can complete and return the form or use the information on the form to submit the report online.

Due to changes in the law, some representative payees who live in the same house as the person receiving disability benefits are no longer required to file the annual payee report, including:

  • parents and legal guardians of a minor child beneficiary
  • parents of a disabled adult beneficiary, and
  • the spouse of a beneficiary.

But these representative payees must still keep records of all spending and savings and be ready to share this information with Social Security if it's requested.

Changes Your Social Security Payee Must Report

Your representative payee must keep Social Security informed about changes in your life or living arrangements. Your Social Security payee must report it if you do any of the following:

  • move
  • get married
  • gain or lose a roommate (including a dependent child)
  • become hospitalized or institutionalized
  • travel outside the United States for 30 days or more
  • start or stop working
  • begin receiving child support
  • begin receiving other benefits, such as:
    • workers' compensation
    • black lung benefits, or
    • a government pension
  • receive unexpected assets (if you get SSI benefits) or more income than anticipated in a month
  • medically improve (or are no longer disabled)
  • become incarcerated or convicted of a crime, or
  • die.

Finally, if your representative payee realizes that you've mistakenly received too much money from Social Security, the payee should contact the SSA and return the excess money or face fines and penalties.

For more information, see Social Security's Guide for Representative Payees.

How Much Does a Representative Payee Get Paid?

Representative payees can be individuals or organizations. The rules regarding payment are different depending on which type of payee you have.

An individual representative payee generally can't collect a fee for payee services provided to you. The exception is if your payee is also your legal guardian. In that case, your payee might be able to collect a guardian fee if the court has authorized it.

Sometimes an organizational payee, such as a social service agency, serves as representative payee for several people receiving Social Security disability benefits. Those types of payees can collect a fee, but a couple of things must happen first:

  • the organization must apply in writing to be a fee-for-service (FFS) payee, and
  • Social Security must authorize the fee arrangement.

How to Change Your Representative Payee

If you don't want the person or organization Social Security has chosen as your representative payee to serve in that role, you can appeal the appointment of the payee. You'll need to send a letter to Social Security within 60 days after you're notified of the appointment.

If you're already receiving Social Security disability benefits through a representative payee but want a different person to be your payee, you can request a change. Unfortunately, Social Security doesn't offer a payee change form online that you can use. Instead, the person you want to take over as your representative payee will need to go to a local Social Security office to fill out an application and provide proof of identification.

How Someone Becomes a Representative Payee

The process required for someone to become your Social Security representative payee is the same whether you want that person to be chosen as your first payee or to replace your existing payee. It starts with the application—Form SSA-11, Request to Be Selected as a Payee. Note that even if someone has power of attorney over your finances, that person still has to apply and be approved by Social Security to serve as your representative payee. The person you want to be your payee will usually complete the application in a face-to-face interview at your local SSA field office.

If you're already getting disability payments and a family member feels you can't manage your own finances—for instance, if your health has declined—that person can apply to be your Social Security payee without you requesting it.

When that happens, Social Security will need to know why the payee applicant believes you can't manage your income. Social Security will investigate, but the SSA will continue to pay your benefits directly to you until the investigation is finished and a decision is made.

If Social Security appoints a representative payee that you feel you don't need or that isn't someone you trust to manage your money, you'll have 60 days to file an appeal.

Learn more about the Social Security appeals process.

Updated March 31, 2023

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