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Advancing the Human & Civil Rights of People with Disabilities in Illinois



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A representative payee is a person or an organization, appointed by the Social Security Administration,  to receive the Social Security or SSI benefits for a person who can’t manage his or her own benefits. A payee’s role is to use the benefits to pay for the current and future needs of the beneficiary.  A payee must keep records of expenses.

Being a representative, having power of attorney, or a joint bank account with the beneficiary is not the same as being a payee. These arrangements do not give legal authority to negotiate and manage a beneficiary’s Social Security and/or SSI benefits.  Representative payees must apply for and be appointed by Social Security.

A beneficiary is a person who receives Social Security and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments.

The law requires most minor children and all adults determined to be incompetent by a court to have payees. Social Security Administration presumes an adult is capable to manage his or her own benefits. If it appears this may not be true, evidence is gathered to determine if  a representative payee should be appointed.

Social Security tries to select someone who knows the beneficiary and wants to help them. The payee should be someone who can see the beneficiary often and knows what their needs are. In most cases, someone who knows the beneficiary asks  if he or she can be the beneficiary’s payee. It may be a family member, a friend, a legal guardian or a lawyer. Sometimes, however, social service agencies, nursing homes or other organizations offer to serve as payees. If there’s someone a beneficiary would like to have as their payee, they can tell a Social Security representative and this request will be considered.

A representative payee receives your payments on your behalf and must use the money to pay for your current needs. Some examples include paying rent and utilities, buying personal care items, buying food, paying for clothing, paying for entertainment like going to the movies, paying for doctor and therapist visits, tracking your spending, and saving your money. After these expenses are paid, your payee can use the rest of the money to pay any past-due bills you may have or support your dependents. If there is money left over, your payee should save it for you. If you live in an institution, such as a nursing home or a hospital, the payee should pay the cost of your care and provide money for your personal needs. Payees must use benefits in the best interests of the beneficiary, according to their best judgment.

A payee cannot:

  • Sign legal documents, other than Social Security documents, for a beneficiary.
  • Have legal authority over earned income, pensions, or any income from sources other than Social Security or SSI.
  • Use a beneficiary’s money for the payee’s personal expenses, or spend funds in a way that would leave the beneficiary without necessary items or services (housing, food, medical care).
  • Put a beneficiary’s Social Security or SSI funds in the payee’s or another person’s account.
  • Use a child’s “dedicated account” funds for basic living expenses. (This only applies to disabled and blind SSI beneficiaries under age 18.)
  • Keep conserved funds once you are no longer the payee.
  • Charge the beneficiary for services unless authorized by SSA to do so.

Talk to them about the problem.

Ask them about how your money is being spent and about your budget.

Contact Equip for Equality’s Representative Payee Program by calling or 1.800.537.2632 (TTY: 1.800.610.2779) or email

Under the Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act of 2018, Equip for Equality conducts performance reviews of representative payees to determine if beneficiary funds are properly safeguarded and their needs are met.

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Last updated: April 25, 2019

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