A carer is anyone who looks after someone who is unable to cope on their own without being paid to do so.
In the UK, there are approximately six million carers, excluding health professionals and care workers, and another 6,000 people become carers every day. However, many people may not see themselves as carers, but simply as someone who is helping to look after a friend, or relative, who is elderly, ill, or disabled.
Who can be a carer?
Anyone can be a carer, including those who are under 18 years of age. Carers who are under 18 years of age are known as young carers.
What does a carer do?
Carers carry out tasks for someone who is unable to manage on their own. This may involve personal care, such as bathing, cooking, and dressing, physical help with moving around, or carrying out errands, such as shopping, or picking up prescriptions.
Support for carers
Caring for someone can be both physically and emotionally demanding.The everyday tasks that need to be performed and the change in circumstances can put a strain on the relationship between the carer and the person they are caring for.
Several forms of assistance are available for carers, including financial support, help with employment, help in providing care, and carer’s support groups. All carers have the right to a carer’s assessment by social services in order to help determine the level of support that they need.
Your entitlements as a carer
If you are a carer, you are entitled to a number of different types of support, depending on your personal circumstances. The various types of support that you may be entitled to are outlined below.
If you are a carer and you over 16 years of age, you may be eligible to receive Carer’s Allowance. Carer’s Allowance is the main form of financial benefit that is available to carers. Currently, the amount of Carer’s Allowance that you can receive is £61.35 a week.
To be eligible for Carer’s Allowance, you must be over 16 years of age and:
- care for someone for at least 35 hours a week,
- normally live in England, Scotland or Wales, or you live abroad as a member of the armed forces
- you’re not in full time education or studying for more than 21 hours a week
- not be earning more than £102 a week (after taxes, care costs while you’re at work and 50% of what you pay into your pension)
- not be receiving any of a list of other benefits, including Incapacity Benefit, State Retirement Pension and contribution-based Job Seeker’s Allowance,
Some carers may also qualify for the Carer Premium, and may be able to receive an extra weekly sum of money in addition to the Carer’s Allowance. The Carer Premium may also be available for those who cannot claim Carer’s Allowance due to receiving another benefit.
See the ‘selected links’ section for more information about qualifying for the Carer’s Allowance and the Carer Premium, plus how to claim.
Employment rights for carers
Sometimes, it can be very difficult to combine caring for someone with having a job, and some carers find that they have to give up working in order to care for someone full time.
Since the Employment Act 2002 became law, working parents of disabled children under 18 have the right to request flexible working arrangements. Furthermore, since April 2007, you also have the right to ask for flexible working if you are a carer of an adult who is a relative or lives at the same address as you.
While you have the right to ask for flexible work in these circumstances, it is important to know that employers are not bound to grant these requests. However, they must give business reasons for refusing a request for flexible working.
Emergency time off
Carers also have the right to take unpaid time off work for dependants (the people they care for) in an emergency.
All employees have the right to take unpaid time off for emergencies (also known as time off for ‘dependants’). It does not matter how long you have worked for your employer you still have this right.
It is a good idea to check your contract or company policy for your employer’s policy on time off for dependants. Your employer may pay you for this time off, but this decision is up to them.
A dependant can be your mother or father, your son or daughter, or anybody who lives with you as a member of your family and is solely dependant on you. A dependant can also be someone who would rely on your help in an emergency, such as an elderly neighbour who lives alone.
What counts as an emergency?
There are a number of situations that count as an emergency:
- When your care arrangements are temporarily disrupted (such as when a nurse doesn’t arrive), or break down completely.
- When someone you’re looking after dies and you need to make arrangements or go to the funeral.
- When someone you’re looking after is ill or has been assaulted (for example, has been mugged, or your child has been in a fight),
- When you need to make arrangements for the long-term care of someone you’re looking after who is ill or injured (but this does not include giving them long-term care yourself).
How much time off?
There is no formula for the amount of time you can take off to care for a dependant. Your rights allow for a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off. Each case is different, but in most cases, one or two days may be enough.
There is no set limit on how often you can claim time off for dependants, as long as you are dealing with real emergencies. If your employer feels that you are taking more time off than they can cope with, they need to let you know.
What do I need to do?
If you need to use this right to take time off, you need to let your employer know as soon as possible. If you are back at work before you have been able to tell your employer that you have taken time off, you still need to let them know why you were away from work.
If the problem takes longer to deal with, let your employer know as soon as you can, explaining why you need more time and how much longer you think you will need. Put this in writing if you can. Your employer may have a form for you to fill in.
What if I am turned down?
If you think you have been unreasonably refused time off, you can make a complaint to an employment tribunal. You should do this within three months of your request for emergency leave being turned down.
Having the right to take time off for dependants can give you some legal protection. If you think your employer has treated you unfairly because you have taken time off to deal with an emergency or to help a dependant, ask your union or a legal adviser for advice.
If you are a carer, and you are under 18 years of age, it is very important that you receive the help and support that you need.
Your local council has a responsibility to ensure that your duties as a carer do not interfere with your education, development, and overall quality of life. They must also ensure that you do not become trapped in your role as a carer. This means that as a young carer you should not have to:
- care for someone at a similar level of responsibility as an adult, and
- take on a regular and substantial amount of caring for a disabled person.
Young carers are not routinely eligible for a carer’s assessment (see the ‘getting help’ section) but, in rare cases, someone who is 16, or 17, years of age may be able to have one. See the ‘selected links’ section to find out.
As a carer, it is likely that you will be used to taking on responsibility by yourself. However, that does not mean that you always have to cope on your own, or that you cannot ask for help from others.
The following advice may help to make your duties as a carer easier.
Recognise yourself as a carer
Although you care for someone who needs your help, you may not see yourself as a carer. This is not uncommon; many carers see their role as simply taking on what needs doing, or as looking after a friend, or family member.
However, it can help to realise that you are a carer, and to allow yourself the status of being a carer. This means being aware of your rights and entitlements as a carer, informing others of your role, and getting all the help that you need.
Let friends and family help
You may feel reluctant to ask friends or family members for help with your caring responsibilities, and they may hesitate in offering to help for fear of implying that you cannot cope on your own. However, carrying on without the help of those closest to you is not good for you, and can affect your own health and well-being.
Try talking to your friends and family about the extent of your role as a carer, and letting them know that you would welcome their support. Accepting help does not affect your ability as a carer, and even small things, such as help with doing odd jobs around the house, or taking an occasional break from caring, can make a positive difference.
Remember to care for yourself
One in five carers has reported to Carers UK that their own health has been affected as a direct result of caring for someone else. Carers often develop back problems due to lifting without proper training, and many carers are affected by stress-related health conditions.
It is easy to ignore your own well-being when you are looking after someone else. However, if you are a carer, it is important to that you regularly take some time to do something that you enjoy, such as relaxing with a book, or visiting friends. Taking time to care for yourself will help to prevent stress and tiredness, and can make caring easier.
The following advice may be useful in enabling you to get the help and support that you need as a carer.
Tell others that you are a carer
The first step to getting help as a carer is to inform others of your situation. There is no national register for carers, but letting healthcare professionals, your employer, and those who are close to you, know about your role as a carer, can give you access to many different forms of support.
If you are a carer you should tell those listed below.
- Your GP – they should ensure that you have regular health checks, receive a flu jab, and may be able to provide flexible appointment times, or home visits.
- Your local social services – who can give you a carer’s assessment (see below) to determine the level of help that you need, offer replacement care to give you a break, and provide assisted living aids and equipment,
- Your employer – who is obliged to offer you flexible hours and time off at short notice (see the ‘facts’ section).
- Your family and friends – do not be afraid to ask for their help if you need it.
Have a carer’s assessment
According to the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995, and the Carers & Disabled Children Act 2000, you are entitled to a carer’s assessment if you care for someone for ‘a substantial amount of time on a regular basis’. You also have the right to an assessment if you planning to care for someone (such as after a hospital stay), or if you are caring for a disabled child.
You are entitled to a carer’s assessment even if the person you are caring for does not wish to receive support from social services.
Your assessment will be undertaken by your local social services in order to decide what you need to begin, or to continue, caring. You should be offered an assessment when you inform social services of your role as a carer, or you can ask for one.
Both you and the person you care for will be involved in the assessment, although you are entitled to a private assessment with your social worker if you require it.
Your social worker should look at every aspect of your role as a carer, including the physical problems you might have, as well as the employment, emotional, and social aspects of your life. This can be a lot to think about at once. See the ‘selected links’ section for more information about carer’s assessments and how to prepare for one.
How a carer’s assessment can help you
Some of the forms of carer support that your assessment may grant you are listed below. The type of support that you can receive may depend on the services that are available in your local area.
Home care includes help with general household tasks, such as cooking and shopping. It may be available through social services.
Day care centres can offer the person you care for an opportunity to take on new hobbies and arrange days out, and they can also provide you with a break from caring. Day care centres are run by social services departments, or voluntary organisations, such as charities.
Assisted living devices
Assisted living devices include gadgets and devices that can make everyday tasks easier for a disabled person and their carer, such as handrails, hoists, and tap turners. In some cases, the person you care for may also be given a grant that they can use to adapt their home to meet their needs.
Direct payments are payments from social services that allow you, and the person you care for, to buy the services that you need, instead of having them provided directly by social services.
After your assessment, your social worker will draw up a care plan outlining which services you can receive and the level of help and support you have been granted. If you are not happy with the result of your assessment, or how it was carried out, you can make a complaint through the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB).
Claim your financial benefits
As a carer, you may be entitled to receive financial support in the form of the Carer’s Allowance. Some carers are also eligible to receive an extra amount of money called the Carer Premium. See the ‘facts’ and ‘selected links’ sections for more information about the Carer’s Allowance and the Carer Premium.
Contact your nearest carers group or centre
Carers groups and centres offer information, support, and a way to meet and socialise with other people in your area who are also carers. See the ‘selected links’ section to find your nearest carers group.
This information is from the NHS Direct Encyclopaedia/Carers