How unpaid carers can claim Government help

Updated on 22 February 2013 | 4 Comments

One in 10 Brits is an unpaid carer. But some Government support is available in the form of things like the Carer's Allowance and the Attendance Allowance. Here's how to claim what you or the person you care for is entitled to.

The 2011 Census has revealed that 5.8 million people in England and Wales act as unpaid carers. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), this figure has increased by 600,000 in the ten years since the 2001 Census.

That works out at just over a tenth of the population of England and Wales providing unpaid care to a partner, relative, neighbour or friend. What's more, as our population ages, the ONS predicts that demand for care provided by spouses and adult children will more than double over the next 30 years. 

These hard-working folk make a vital contribution to society by helping people to maintain their health and dignity at home. Obviously, acting as an unpaid carer can put huge strain on individuals, affecting their employment opportunities and personal, social and leisure activities.

Being an unpaid carer can sometimes be a thankless job. But they can claim some financial support from the Government. As the first port of call for carers, I would recommend the NHS Carers Direct website for financial, legal and well-being advice for the caring community. Also, the Carers Trust charity offers valuable, specialist advice.

As for state support, there are three main benefits for carers and those being looked after. These are:

1. Carer's Allowance

Carer's Allowance is a taxable benefit paid to those aged 16 years or over who spend at least 35 hours a week caring for a disabled person.

The current rate of Carer's Allowance is £58.45 a week (which could work out at less than £1 an hour for full-time unpaid carers). You do not have to be related to the person you care for or live with them in order to claim this allowance. If you are in work, then your net weekly earnings must not be above £100.

To be eligible for Carer's Allowance, you must be caring for someone who receives either Attendance Allowance or the Disability Living Allowance care component at the middle or highest rate (see below). You may get Carer's Allowance even if you have never been in paid work or paid National Insurance contributions.

Carer's Allowance itself is not means-tested, but claiming Carer's Allowance may reduce the means-tested benefits paid to you and the person you look after.

More about Carer's Allowance

2. Attendance Allowance

Attendance Allowance is a non-taxable benefit paid to over-65s needing personal care, not their carers. It is usually given only to those who have needed help for six months or longer. It is not based upon National Insurance contributions and is not affected by income or savings.

This benefit is paid at two weekly rates, based on need. The lower rate of £51.85 a week is paid to those who need frequent help or constant supervision during the day, or supervision at night. The higher rate of £77.45 is for help or supervision throughout both day and night, and for those who are terminally ill.

More about Attendance Allowance

3. Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

Disability Living Allowance is another non-taxable benefit paid to people needing personal care. DLA comes in two parts: a care component and a mobility component. Whether you are in or out of work, you can usually apply for DLA if you’re under 65.

The care component is paid to people who can't cook a meal, require help with personal care, or who need someone to watch over them to keep them safe. The rate paid depends on the level of care or supervision needed. The mobility component is paid to people who have difficulty walking and getting around outside home.

Depending on the level of help needed, DLA ranges from £20.55 to £131.50 a week. From 8th April 2013, Personal Independence Payment will replace DLA for people aged 16 to 64.

More about Disability Living Allowance

4. Other benefits and one-off grants

As well as these three core benefits for carers and the cared-for, extra state benefits may be available. However, our welfare system is fiendishly complex, so negotiating this labyrinth takes time and effort. One free, independent benefits calculator I recommend is Turn2us (formerly EntitledTo).

For example, those claiming Attendance Allowance and similar benefits may be entitled to extra Pension Credit, Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, plus other payouts such as free TV licences for the over-75s, Winter Fuel Payments and the Christmas Bonus (all of which are non-taxable).

Finally, those struggling in the caring community can get financial assistance and grants towards equipment, adaptations and respite breaks by applying to their local authorities or charities, benevolent funds and trusts with expertise in these fields.

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