We look at the help available for carers, from free health checks to holidays and state benefits
Britain has an estimated six million carers — the unpaid relatives and friends who look after an ill, frail or disabled person. Yet Carers UK, the charity, says that the majority of these people do not realise that they are carers and that they may be entitled to help from the State and other sources.
Here is Times Money's guide to the financial and other support that is available, and where to go for further information.
The principal state benefit for carers is the carer's allowance of £53.10 a week. This is not a means-tested benefit, but it is available only to those aged 16 and over who care for someone who receives a qualifying disability payment (see panel, below) for at least 35 hours a week and does not earn more than £95 a week in other work. Recipients may also be entitled to the carer's premium, which boosts other benefits to which they are entitled by up to £29.50 a week.
The allowance can only be claimed by one carer per person cared for, even when two parents care for a child. The same amount is paid regardless of the number of people that a carer looks after. The allowance is stopped when a carer begins to receive the state pension, which Imelda Redmond, of Carers UK, says infuriates many older carers, who feel penalised.
Ms Redmond adds that an estimated £600 million of carer's allowance is unclaimed each year, though most carers do not qualify — often because they want to stay in work on a decent wage. Research indicates that one in five people caring for 50 or more hours a week also has a full-time job.
Other help is offered by local authorities and varies across the country, with some carers moving long distances to secure the best provision. All carers are entitled to a carer's assessment from social services, regardless of entitlement to the carer's allowance. A social worker will assess their right to support, such as respite care, help with housework or grants towards specialist household equipment.
Ms Redmond says that the quality of assessments varies and that carers should contact the CarersLine on 0808 8087777 for advice on effective preparation before an assessment.
All local authorities must offer direct payments, where carers can elect to receive cash in lieu of specific caring services, so that they can make their own arrangements. Ms Redmond says that these are popular because they give carers extra flexibility.
Significantly, carers may qualify for council tax discounts of up to 50 per cent. Check the rules at the Carers UK website (Carersuk.org) or call the CarersLine for more information on this and other financial matters.
The CarersLine can advise on support from sources besides the State. Much of this is available regardless of eligibility for the carer's allowance. Some areas have carers' centres, most of which are independent charities and members of the Princess Royal Trust for Carers. These offer advice on getting financial and other help, plus free social activities. The Carers Centre for Brighton & Hove, for example, offers women's swimming groups and play days for young carers aged 8 to 12, among other events.
Another charity, Crossroads: Caring for Carers, sends trained support workers into homes to give carers time for themselves — to see friends, keep appointments or simply to sleep. Carers interested in requesting this sort of help should visit www.crossroads.org.uk for details of their local scheme.
Support is available from charities linked to conditions, too. The Parkinson's Disease Society and Multiple Sclerosis Society help carers as well as those with the diseases.
Companies may also offer help. Lloyds Pharmacy, for example, has teamed up with Carers UK to offer free health checks in Carers' Week (June 8-14). See the charity's website for further details and email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a voucher.
Meanwhile, Saga's Carers Trust offers about 100 free respite holidays a year to carers aged over 50. People can nominate themselves or someone they know at Saga.co.uk or by requesting a form on 01303 774421. Winners receive a break of their choice from Saga Holidays for themselves and a friend, plus spending money. The trust pays for the person cared for to be looked after by professionals or relatives, as he or she prefers.
In the pipeline
The Government's new Caring with Confidence initiative is introducing free group advice sessions for carers with local providers, such as charities and local authorities. These include a session on caring and resources, outlining the financial help available.
Diane Roskell, of Caring with Confidence, says that sessions are starting over the next few weeks in areas where provision for carers is most lacking. These locations are not yet listed at caringwithconfidence.net, so call 0800 8492349 for details. The website does, however, offer online study sessions for carers and you can order a series of free self-study workbooks on 01223 400393.
Kay O'Shaugnessy, of Plymouth, gave up running her own catering business to care full-time for her disabled 11-year-old daughter, Amy, who has cerebral palsy.
The 51-year-old, pictured above with Amy, says: "We went from a good income to nothing. The carer's allowance works out at less than £2 an hour for a role that is physically and mentally punishing.
Mrs O'Shaugnessy had to push hard to receive three to four hours of weekly respite care from her local authority and adds: "It is hard to go to social services because you feel a huge burden of guilt, but it's the only way to get help from your local authority."
She advises carers to contact other local carers through charities such as Carers UK. "You find out much more from other carers than you ever will through professionals," she says.
Eligibility for benefits
The carer's allowance is available only to those who care for people who receive certain qualifying benefits — most often the attendance allowance or the disability living allowance (at the middle or highest rate for personal care).
The attendance allowance is a non-means-tested benefit for people aged 65 or over who need help with personal care because they are physically or mentally disabled. It is paid at higher and lower rates of £70.35 and £47.10 a week, depending on the extent of the disability. In a minority of cases, a medical examination is required before the allowance is paid.
The disability living allowance (DLA) is a non-means-tested benefit for children and adults aged under 65 who need help with personal care or have walking difficulties because they are physically or mentally disabled. It is paid in separate care and mobility components — each paid at different rates, starting at £18.65 a week, depending on the severity of disability. People can claim the DLA whether or not they work. Again, a medical check may be required.
Disabled people may also be entitled to a reduction in council tax. The rules are complicated, so it is best to contact your local authority or Citizens' Advice Bureau for help. You can locate your local bureau at www.citizensadvice.org.uk
Those who do not live with carers and are at risk of going into residential care may be able to claim money from the Independent Living Fund. Go to www.ilf.org.uk.
Visit Direct.gov.uk, the government website, or call the Benefits Advice Line free on 0800 882200 for information on all benefits. Many disabled people and their carers are eligible for income-related benefits besides those for the condition.
The Times Online, 16th May 2009