This paper uses qualitative data from a cross-national study of ‘cash for care’ schemes in five European countries (Austria, France, Italy, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom) to consider the concepts of empowerment and independence in relation to both care-users and care-givers. The paper locates the schemes along two axes, one of regulation/non-regulation, the other whether relatives can be paid or not. Each of the schemes has a different impact both on the care relationship and on the labour market for care. In The Netherlands where relatives can be paid, for example, a fully commodified form of informal care emerges; but in Austria and Italy with low regulation, a mix of informal and formal care-givers/workers has emerged with many international migrant workers. In the UK, direct payments allow care-users to employ local care-workers who deliver care for various lengths of time; while in France a credentialised system means that care-work is delivered by qualified workers but for very short intervals. The main conclusion is that none of these schemes have a simple outcome or advantage, and that the contexts in which they occur and the nature of their regulation has to be understood before drawing conclusions about their impact on empowerment and independence on both sides of the care relationship.