The government is failing to do all that it can to help full-time carers in the UK, an influential committee of MPs has said.
Benefits for carers are "unnecessarily complex and cause confusion", MPs said, with one-fifth having difficulties with applying for state help.
According to the committee of public accounts (PAC), which compiled today's report, six million carers in the UK providing £23 billion worth of social care effectively for free are only receiving £2 billion in benefits.
As well as carer's allowance, available to someone foregoing full-time work to look after someone else, carers can be eligible for additional amounts and carer's premiums on top of other benefits such as a state pension.
In today's report the PAC's members said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is unable to assess the effectiveness of its attempts to reach eligible carers and specific groups such as ethnic minorities as it does not know the benefit take-up rate.
Difficulties encountered by carers in the benefits application process include understanding the information provided by the department and also what information they are required to provide.
The system of 'underlying entitlement' means some carers have to apply for carer's allowance, even though they are not eligible for it, in order to receive 'top-up' payments of carer's premium and additional amounts.
Difficulties is also caused by the interaction of carer's benefits with benefits received by the person for whom they care. This is because receipt of carer's benefit can reduce the cared-for person's benefits.
Edward Leigh, chairman of the committee, said: "Millions of people devote a large part of their time, often for many years, to caring for family or friends who are ill or disabled. But the value of the service that these unpaid carers provide to society is not reflected in the quality of the DWP's arrangements for providing them with financial and other support.
"Carers who apply for benefits should not have to wade through official written guidance and communications which can range from the hard to understand to the downright incomprehensible. And they should not have to be jumping through unnecessary hoops to apply for benefits and allowances."
Today's report added that carers' situations could also be improved if the government provided for the needs of the people being cared for.
This outcome requires effective coordination of services between the DWP and other organisations in central and local government, the committee said, as well as the voluntary and community sector. Improving relationships at a local level would make it easier for carers to be referred quickly to the services they need.
London Wired, 8th September 2009