Get a carer’s assessment
About two in three UK adults are likely to become an unpaid carer at some point during their lifetime, according to the charity Carers UK. Not all will give up other work to do this but every day about 600 people do give up their jobs to look after someone who is older, disabled or seriously ill, according to the charity’s research.
Helen Walker, the chief executive at Carers UK, says when someone reduces or stops working: “This has significant implications for their financial resilience – both in the short and long-term – at a time when many of us are struggling to manage the high cost of living.”
Even if you are continuing in full-time work, there are ways to reduce the burden of unpaid caring.
If you are caring for a family member or friend, request a free carer’s assessment from your local authority’s social services department. You can find more information on the NHS website.
Someone from your local council’s social care team will arrange to see you to discuss your responsibilities, and whether they affect your ability to earn a living and carry on with your life in general.
You may be offered support, including, for example, training to help you with your caring role, equipment and adaptations to your home to make some tasks easier to manage, and help with the housework.
If you are not entitled to any particular help with care, you should be given information on where to get general support.
Seek employer support
If you are struggling at work because of care commitments at home, speak to your employer. The Equality Act provides carers with some protection from discrimination at work as a result of care commitments. Many employers have HR policies on this, which may include offering carer’s leave or other support.
In May this year, the Carer’s Leave Act gained royal assent, meaning that under the law, workers will be able to receive carer’s leave, in addition to their other leave. The earliest the act is expected to come into force is April 2024.
Walker says: “This will introduce a new and flexible entitlement to up to one week’s unpaid leave a year for employees who are providing or arranging care for a relative.” The new leave will be available from the first day in a job and allow employees to take leave for planned caring commitments.
Check your benefits entitlement
The carer’s allowance is £76.75 a week for those who provide a minimum of 35 hours of care a week – which is effectively £2.19 an hour. You will pay tax on the allowance if your total income exceeds your £12,570-a-year personal allowance.
It is worth checking if you are eligible for other benefits.
If you have reached state pension age with a low income, you may be able to claim pension credit, which tops up your weekly income to £201.05 if you are single or £306.85 as a couple.
It is also important to check what benefits someone you care for may be entitled to. For example, an older person may be entitled to attendance allowance if they struggle with everyday tasks such as washing and dressing, or with getting around outside. This can be used to pay for help.
You can use the free Turn2us benefits calculator to find out what you are entitled to, or seek help from charities such as Carers UK, Age UK and Citizens Advice.
Help with healthcare costs
You may be able to get help to meet the cost of things such as NHS prescriptions, dental treatment and vaccinations if you are a carer, depending on what benefits you receive.
Make sure you register as a carer with your GP surgery. If you are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person, you are entitled to a free flu jab and Covid booster vaccination, for example.
Cut household costs
Carers UK says about 75% of those receiving the carer’s allowance are struggling with cost of living pressures, while almost half (46%) are cutting back on essentials.
This makes it particularly important to make sure you are getting the best deal possible on your household bills.
Make use of comparison websites to search for better offers, such as Moneysupermarket, Go.Compare and Compare the Market. If there are other providers on the market you could switch to, try asking yours for a better price. This includes mobile, broadband, insurance and TV package providers, for example.
You may be entitled to a carer’s council tax discount if you live in the same house as the person you care for.
Turning to energy bills, if you are on a low income, receive certain benefits or have a prepayment meter, you may be eligible for the warm home discount scheme. This is a one-off £150 discount on your electricity bill paid to your energy provider between October and March.
If you are a pensioner, you may also be entitled to the winter fuel payment. This is a tax-free payment of between £250 and £600 to help towards winter heating bills.
If you are worrying about money and racking up debt, speak to charities such as StepChange or National Debtline for advice.
Claim carer’s credit
If you give up work to care for someone for at least 20 hours a week, you could claim carer’s credit to maintain your national insurance (NI) record.
If you get carer’s allowance, you will receive carer’s credit automatically but you don’t have to be receiving this benefit to claim it. Your income, savings and investments will not affect your entitlement to carer’s credit.
At present, the full new state pension is £203.85 a week but you will only get the full amount if you have 35 years’ worth of NI contributions. You usually need at least 10 years’ worth to receive any state pension at all. By claiming carer’s credit, you can plug any gaps in your NI record if you take time out of work to care for someone.