The Social Security Administration (SSA) pays benefits to certain eligible people, called beneficiaries. If a beneficiary cannot manage or direct the management of their SSA benefits, SSA appoints a representative payee (rep payee) to receive and manage the SSA benefits. A rep payee can be a person or an organization.
This publication is for adult beneficiaries and explains how a beneficiary can ask SSA to change or remove a rep payee and how a beneficiary can report a rep payee for misuse of funds.
Changing a Rep Payee
This section provides guidance on why an SSA beneficiary may want to change their rep payee and how to request a new rep payee.
Why might a beneficiary want to change a rep payee?
A beneficiary may want to change their rep payee if the beneficiary finds a person or organization that better fits their needs or if they think their rep payee is misusing their SSA benefits, is unable to manage the benefits, or is not following SSA rep payee rules.
Who may not serve as a rep payee?
A rep payee must meet SSA’s qualifications. Generally, a person is not qualified to be a rep payee if the person:
- has been convicted of a violation of the Social Security Act;
- has been convicted of an offense resulting in imprisonment for more than one year;
- receives SSA benefits through a rep payee;
- previously served as a rep payee and was found by SSA or a court to have misused benefits; or
- is a creditor, which means the person provides the beneficiary with goods or services in exchange for something, like money.
SSA may allow a creditor to be a rep payee if the person poses no risk to the beneficiary, if the creditor’s financial relationship with the beneficiary presents no substantial conflict of interest, and if the creditor is any of the following:
- a relative living in the same household as the beneficiary;
- the beneficiary’s legal guardian or legal representative;
- a facility licensed or certified as a care facility under State or local law;
- a qualified organization authorized to collect a fee for performing rep payee services for the beneficiary;
- an administrator, owner, or employee of the facility where the beneficiary lives, if SSA cannot locate an alternative rep payee; or
- any other individual SSA deems appropriate based on a written determination.
What is the process for a beneficiary to request to change their rep payee?
A beneficiary should contact their local SSA office and explain the reasons for wanting to change a rep payee. A beneficiary can find their local SSA office on the SSA website. The SSA office should then make a determination and notify the beneficiary. If the beneficiary knows who they want to be their rep payee, the beneficiary should also ask that person to complete the appropriate SSA form.
How does SSA decide whether to change a beneficiary’s rep payee?
SSA tries to select the person, agency, organization, or institution that will best serve the interests of a beneficiary. SSA has provided its employees with guidance about the order of preference for selection of a rep payee. SSA can choose not to strictly follow its order of preference if SSA decides it is in the beneficiary’s overall best interest to choose someone lower on the preference list. However, if a beneficiary wants to change their rep payee to an individual higher on the preference list, that may be enough for SSA to approve the change if the individual is otherwise qualified. The following SSA preference list for adults may provide guidance on the likelihood that SSA will grant a request to change a beneficiary’s rep payee:
Payee Preference List For Adults
- A spouse, parent or other relative with custody or who shows strong concern;
- A legal guardian/conservator with custody or who shows strong concern;
- A friend with custody;
- A public or nonprofit agency or institution;
- A Federal or State institution;
- A statutory guardian…;
- A voluntary conservator…;
- A private, for-profit institution with custody and is licensed under State law;
- A friend without custody, but who shows strong concern for the beneficiary’s well-being, including persons with power of attorney;
- Anyone not listed above who is qualified and able to act as payee, and who is willing to do so;
- An organization that charges a fee for its service.
If a beneficiary believes there is a rep payee who is a better fit for their circumstances, the beneficiary should contact the local SSA office regardless of whether the proposed rep payee meets the standards above or is lower on the preference list than the current rep payee is. SSA determines whether to change a rep payee on a case-by-case basis to ensure the beneficiary’s best interest is served.
Removing a Rep Payee
This section defines SSA’s standard for removal of a rep payee, describes the removal request process, gives tips for making a request and preparing for an interview with SSA, and lays out what evidence SSA considers when determining whether to remove a rep payee.
What is the standard for SSA’s removal of a rep payee?
Generally, SSA will remove a rep payee and make direct payment to a beneficiary when the beneficiary demonstrates they are mentally and physically able to manage or direct the management of benefit payments.
What is the process for a beneficiary to request removal of a rep payee?
To request removal of a rep payee, a beneficiary should complete the appropriate SSA form, which will ask the beneficiary to explain why they can handle their own benefits. SSA must consider reviewing a beneficiary’s capability of managing funds whenever there is an allegation or indication that they are now capable of managing their SSA benefits. If SSA determines a full review is needed, SSA may interview the beneficiary, interview other knowledgeable people, and review documents to determine whether the beneficiary is capable of managing their own funds.
How can a beneficiary prepare for completing SSA’s form requesting removal of a rep payee and for an SSA interview?
If possible, a beneficiary may want to gather the following documents prior to filling out the SSA form requesting removal of a rep payee and prior to any interview:
- A medical professional’s signed statement of the beneficiary’s capability to manage benefits. If it is not possible to get a statement, a beneficiary may wish to provide the name and contact information for the beneficiary’s treating doctor.
- Signed statements from people who know the beneficiary, like relatives, close friends, and landlords, describing the beneficiary’s ability to manage funds and meet daily needs.
A beneficiary may want to be prepared to answer questions or offer information about:
- The beneficiary’s finances, such as how much money the beneficiary receives, the source of the money, and the amounts of the beneficiary’s other living expenses;
- Information about the beneficiary’s bank account;
- Any bills the beneficiary pays on their own;
- Where the beneficiary has lived for the past few years;
- The beneficiary’s diet, nutrition, and grocery buying habits;
- The beneficiary’s ability to meet their medical needs;
- Any friends, relatives, or community organizations that help the beneficiary; and
- Whether people borrow money from the beneficiary without repaying it or whether people have lived with the beneficiary without paying rent. (If the beneficiary allows people to take advantage of their income, it will likely reflect poorly on the beneficiary’s capability to receive direct payment.)
How does SSA decide whether to remove a rep payee?
SSA should review any evidence that can help SSA understand a beneficiary’s ability to manage or direct the management of their funds. This is called a capability determination. SSA looks at legal, medical, and lay evidence to determine capability. These types of evidence are described below.
In terms of legal evidence, if a court has declared a beneficiary legally incompetent to manage their own finances, the beneficiary must have a rep payee. If a beneficiary who has been found legally incompetent requests direct payment of benefits, SSA must get evidence showing the beneficiary is now competent. If SSA cannot get this evidence, the beneficiary must continue to have a rep payee.
Medical evidence is evidence from a doctor, psychologist, or other qualified medical practitioner that helps SSA determine whether a beneficiary is able to manage or direct the management of their funds. Medical evidence is usually a signed opinion by a qualified medical practitioner who conducted an examination of a beneficiary. Medical evidence used in determining capability must be up to date; generally, this means it is based on an examination within the last year. Medical evidence is very important to SSA, but is not the only factor considered.
Unless there is evidence of legal incompetence, SSA must obtain and consider lay evidence to determine capability. This is true even if there is medical evidence of incapability in the file. Some examples of lay evidence are:
- SSA’s observations during a face-to-face interview of the beneficiary’s behavior, reasoning ability, and how the beneficiary functions with others;
- Signed statements from, or contact with, knowledgeable sources (such as relatives, close friends, neighbors, or landlords) describing the beneficiary’s ability to manage funds and meet daily needs;
- The beneficiary’s ability to explain how they are able to manage their own money. If a beneficiary can state the amount of money received monthly, the source of the money, the amount of their rent or mortgage payment, the amount spent on groceries and other similar costs, SSA guidelines presume capability of the beneficiary to manage their benefits. The beneficiary is also capable if they direct someone else to manage their benefits.
There is no set formula for determining if a beneficiary is capable of receiving direct payment of their SSA benefits. SSA will look at the evidence described above to make a determination on a case-by-case basis.
Reporting a Rep Payee’s Misuse of Funds
This section provides guidance on how to recognize a rep payee’s misuse of SSA funds and how to report a rep payee for misuse of funds.
How can a beneficiary recognize a rep payee’s misuse of funds?
Rep payees may not:
- Use a beneficiary’s funds for the rep payee’s own personal expenses or spend funds in a way that would leave the beneficiary without necessary items or services (housing, food, and medical care);
- Put a beneficiary’s SSA funds in the rep payee’s or another person’s account;
- Keep conserved funds once they are no longer a rep payee for the beneficiary;
- Charge the beneficiary for services unless authorized by SSA to do so.
If a beneficiary believes that their rep payee has acted in any of these ways, the beneficiary can report an allegation of misuse.
How does a beneficiary report a rep payee’s misuse of funds?
Anyone can report a rep payee’s misuse of funds by filing a report with the SSA Office of the Inspector General:
- U.S. Mail:
Social Security Fraud Hotline
P.O. Box 17785
Baltimore, Maryland 21235
- FAX: (410) 597-0118
- Telephone: (800) 269-0271 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time
- TTY: (866) 501-2101
To report a violation, provide as much information as possible about the rep payees suspected misuse, including:
- Name of rep payee and the beneficiary;
- Social Security Number of the rep payee and the beneficiary;
- Date of birth of the rep payee and the beneficiary; and
- Details regarding the allegation such as when, how, and where the misuse happened.
Where can a person get more information about this process?
To get more information about reporting misuse, contact your local SSA office or visit the SSA Office of the Inspector General website.
The following federal funding partner funded the cost of producing this material: the Social Security Administration SSA (6 PAB13020299-01-05). These contents are the sole responsibility of Disability Rights Washington, and do not necessarily represent the official views of SSA.
SSA has reviewed the following publication for technical accuracy only; this should not be considered an official SSA document.
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