What Rights Do Unpaid Carers Have In The UK?
The Law Of… Helping The UK's Carers
If you are one of the 6.5million who currently provides unpaid care for a family member or friend, what rights do you have?
Daxa Patel, a Medical Negligence Partner and Director for Carers Leeds, a charity offering support to unpaid carers, looks at some of the help available to you.
What Is An Unpaid Carer?
At the last official count – the 2011 Census – it was revealed there were 6.5million people acting as unpaid carers in the UK.
You are a unpaid carer if, regardless of age, you are looking after somebody unable to take care of themselves due to illness, disability or another form of debilitating disorder. It may be a family member or friend and their problem may be physical, psychological or related to an addiction.
Unlike a professional carer you will not receive any payment and may possibly be struggling to juggle care commitments with schooling or work. You might even have been forced to give up employment to care for a loved one fulltime.
What Difficulties Do Carers Face?
Aside from the inherent difficulties that can arise from caring for another, one of the key issues facing carers in the UK is financial.
Research has shown there to be 1.2million carers living in poverty. The cost of specialist aids and equipment, combined with working reduced or no hours at all, are key contributory factors in the financial plight of many of the UK's unpaid carers.
Another difficulty is getting the right kind of support. Not just for the person who requires assistance, but for carers too. Providing unpaid care is a demanding and time-intensive undertaking, which can prove both physically and emotionally draining.
A survey by the Carers Trust showed that those providing more than 50 hours care each week were twice more likely to suffer ill health than those with no care obligations. Those offering such extensive care were also linked with a 23% higher risk of suffering a stroke.
What Support Is Available For Unpaid Carers?
If you are an unpaid carer, there are channels available that can offer you support and assistance. As well as various charities dedicated to helping and advising carers, such as the Carers Trust and Carers UK, there is your local authority, which may be able to provide extra support.
You should contact your council's social services department, who will offer you a carer's assessment. The purpose of a carer's assessment is to discuss your needs and how you are coping physically, mentally and emotionally with the pressures placed upon you.
You can request a carer's assessment for both yourself and the person you care for regardless of the amount of time you spend caring, the level of care you provide or whether you live with the person or not. As an unpaid carer you can also request an assessment if the person you care for has previously been ruled ineligible for support.
A carer's assessment will evaluate what help, if any, the local authority can offer you. To qualify you must be found to have what the law defines as 'eligible needs', meaning you meet the requirements of the national criteria. The council will reach a decision based on the information you give them.
If your local authority decides you are eligible for support, it is legally obliged to provide it. As long as you consent to assistance, a plan will be put together to determine how best your needs can be met.
The kind of help which might be made available to you, the carer, includes:
- Help around the home or garden
- Access to technology where such services are unavailable elsewhere
- Help with transport costs, where it is considered a necessity
- Help to improve your health and wellbeing (mental and physical).
The services to help improve your quality of life are available for that specific purpose, so do not be shy about taking advantage of them.
What Financial Assistance Is Available For Unpaid Carers?
As an unpaid carer you may also be eligible for financial assistance. There are a range of benefits you may qualify for, along with Carer's Allowance and Carer's Credit.
This is the main benefit for unpaid carers, payable if you look after somebody in receipt of a qualifying disability benefit for at least 35 hours a week. The current weekly rate is £62.70 and conditions of eligibility include:
- You are aged 16 or over
- You have been resident in the UK for at least 2 of the past 3 years
- You are earning £116 or less following deductions for tax and allowed expenses
- You are not in fulltime education
- You are not subject to any immigration controls.
You do not have to live with the person you are caring for to qualify for Carer's Allowance.
National Insurance top ups which protect your State Pension if you are unable pay your contributions due to caring for somebody else. Conditions of eligibility include:
- You are aged 16 or over
- Your caring duties take up 20 hours or more per week
- You are below the age of State Pension
- The person(s) you are caring for receives a qualifying benefit – Middle or higher rate DLA; Attendance Allowance; Constant Attendance Allowance; Daily living component of PIP; Armed Forces Independent Payment.
You may still be able obtain Carer's Credit if the person you look after does not receive one of the qualifying benefits. You must fill in the 'Care Certificate' section of your application and have it signed by either a health or social care professional.
Even if you are not eligible for Carer's Allowance, you may still qualify for Carer's Credit.
If you are unable to work or your income is reduced due to your caring commitments, you may be able to receive further financial assistance to help with day-to-day costs. These include:
- Council Tax Reduction – A reduction in your council tax bill of up to 100%
- Housing Benefit – A portion or all of your monthly expenditure if you rent
- Income Support – Available for people on low incomes working between 16 and no hours per week
- Heating allowances – Depending upon age and circumstances, the 'Winter Fuel Payment', 'Cold Weather Payment' or 'Warm Home Discount' can help with fuel costs during the winter months
- Budgeting loans – An interest-free loan of no less than £100, which may be available if you are receiving certain other benefits.
Some benefits are set to be replaced by Universal Credit, currently being rolled out. You should check if your local authority is presently part of the Universal Credit scheme, as it will affect the benefits available to you.
What Rights Does An Unpaid Carer Have At Work?
The 2011 Census found there to be 3million unpaid carers in paid work. The responsibilities associated with caring for another person can be particularly demanding if you are also trying to hold down employment.
There are laws that protect you to a certain extent if you are combining work with being a carer. These are known as 'statutory rights' and you may also have further 'contractual rights'.
Contractual rights are covered in your contract and as such are individual to your own terms of employment. Statutory rights cover everybody and those which are relevant to carers include:
- Flexible working – You are allowed to request flexible working if you have been with your current employer for 26 weeks (6 months) or more. Your employer is legally obliged to consider your request and can only turn it down if they have 'sound business reasons' to do so. The definition of flexible working is not restricted to flexi or part time hours. It may also include 'job share', working from home, or only working during term time (if you care for a child). You must make your request in writing and you are limited to one request per year.
- Time off for dependants – You have a right to take unpaid time off to handle certain emergencies regardless of how long you have worked for your employer. A dependent is classed as a member of your family who lives with you or somebody who relies on you for help in the event of an emergency. A 'reasonable' amount of time off is allowed for emergencies such as disruption to care arrangements, the person you care for falling ill or getting injured, or the person you care for dying.
- Protection against discrimination – As an unpaid carer, you are protected from discrimination under certain circumstances by the 2010 Equality Act. Where this applies to the workplace is in situations such as being refused a job or promotion because of your caring commitments, or being harassed or treated unfairly due to your looking after somebody with a protected characteristic (e.g. a disability).
"I left work to care for my elderly father and know first-hand the journey of those in a primary carer role. It is deeply rewarding but hard."
"Carers Rights day on 24th November 2017 is an opportunity for us to reach out to all those carers doing what they do and let them know we care for them too."
Simpson Millar offers a range of expert services related to Employment Law, Court of Protection and Medical Negligence. If you are a carer who has an issue relating to any of these areas, contact us today.