know your rights
Caring for a friend or relative can be a really rewarding experience, but it can also have its ups and downs so it is important to realise that you are not alone and that help is available to you. People providing care, unpaid as carers, have the right to financial and practical help as well as support with combining work and caring.
Every year millions of pounds of carers’ benefits are unclaimed. The benefits system can be really complicated and it isn’t easy to work out what you are entitled to. So it is essential you get a full benefits check for you and the person you are caring for – you can do this by contacting a local Citizen’s Advice Bureau or the Carers UK Adviceline, www.carersuk.org.
Some carers are entitled to Carer’s Allowance - the main benefit for carers.
There are a number of conditions, but if you care for someone for at least 35 hours each week, are 16 years or older, not in full time study, earn less than £100 per week and the person you care for gets certain disability benefits, you may be entitled. If you are already receiving another ‘means tested’ benefit like Income Support, or Housing Benefit, you may not be able to receive Carer’s Allowance but you may be entitled to an increased payment of the benefit you already receive.
We also know that many carers end up paying for bills or equipment or care for the person they care for – so it is essential you also make sure that they are getting the right benefits too.
protecting your pension
People don’t automatically receive a full state pension on retirement, the amount of State Pension you get usually depends on how many qualifying years of National Insurance contributions you have built up. Many carers worry that if they have given up work to carer, their State Pension may be at risk. Carer’s Allowance and certain other benefits make National Insurance contributions for you – so it isn’t just important for your income now that you check if you are getting the right benefits, your pension could also depend on it.
You should tell social services that you are a carer as they my be able to give you practical help such as equipment to lift the person you care for, helpful technology, someone to take over caring for you when you go out and information about local carers groups.
To access practical help you should ask for a carer’s assessment. You can get an assessment whether or not the person you care for has had or wants to have their own assessment of their care needs. To request an assessment, contact your council’s social services department directly or ask your GP to refer you.
The assessment will look at how you feel about caring, whether you are coping, what help you need to carry on providing care, your own health and your own leisure interests. They can also help you put a plan in place in case you are suddenly unable to care.
what kind of help is available?
Depending on where you live in the UK, you may be able to get practical help with housework or gardening, taxi fares or other travel, vouchers to enable you to take a break from caring, counselling to deal with stress and other emotional issues. Help isn’t guaranteed and you could be charged for it, but it is definitely worth checking what is available. The amount of care that the person you care for might also be increased as a result of an assessment.
Juggling working and caring can be tough. You should always try and tell your employer that you are a carer as they might be able to support you in balancing work and care.
You may have rights to request flexible working and everyone has the right to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependent. However, employers are increasingly developing their own additional ways of supporting people who combine work and care so your workplace may be able to offer additional help.
These are just some of the important rights that Carers UK has fought for over the years. We still have a long way to go, but as we campaign for a better deal for carers it is also important that we make sure that everyone is accessing all the support that is out there now.
For more detailed information about the financial and practical support available to carers, visit www.carersuk.org/help-and-advice