Financial support for carers

Are you entitled to financial support for caring for elderly parents or family?

Sarah Pennells – Virgin Money Living Mentor

by Sarah Pennells | Independent Money Mentor

Founder of SavvyWoman and award-winning journalist

Your parents have supported you through everything – from your first tottering steps, through turbulent teenage rebellion and on into adulthood. Their unconditional love, care and, let’s not forget, repeated financial support helped to get you where you are today.

It is only natural that as they grow older you should seek to return some of that support. As we live longer, but don’t necessarily have good health throughout our lives, more people will be relying on their family to help them. It is estimated that there are seven million people in the UK who are carers and that one in five people aged 50-64 care for a family member.

From casual help with shopping and transport to round-the-clock support, caring for your parents can have a big impact on you both financially and emotionally. The good news, though, is that there may be help available.

Financial help for carers

The main state benefit for carers is the Carer’s Allowance and, in the current tax year, it’s worth £62.70 a week. In order to get it, you have to care for someone for at least 35 hours a week and they have to be getting certain disability benefits. The person you are caring for does not have to be a family member and you don’t have to live with them to qualify.

You won’t qualify for Carer’s Allowance if you already earn more than £116 a week after tax and some expenses have been taken off.

If you care for someone for between 20 and 35 hours a week and you’re under state pension age, you can claim Carer’s Credits towards your state pension. It’s useful if you have to stop work to provide care as it preserves your entitlement to the state pension. In order to qualify, the person you care for has to be receiving certain disability benefits.

Since April 2016 carers have been entitled to a needs assessment, which is designed to find out if you qualify for support to help with the impact that caring has on your life.

It’s carried out by your local authority if you’re in England, Wales or Scotland and your local health and social care trust if you’re in Northern Ireland. You aren’t guaranteed to get help, but it’s probably worth getting an assessment done. It may be that you are entitled to some support and are not getting the money which should be coming your way.

Financial help for the person you’re caring for

If you are caring for an elderly parent they may be entitled to a certain benefit if they’re unwell. If they’re aged 65 or over, and have a physical or mental disability they may qualify for Attendance Allowance. It’s a non means-tested benefit that’s worth up to £83.10 a week. Many people who are entitled to it don’t claim and it is well worth investigating whether it applies to your parent. They don’t have to spend it on care, although that is what it is designed for, but could use it to pay for taxi trips and shopping, for example.

Caring and work

Finding the time around employment commitments to give your parents the care they need can be difficult and getting the time needed from your employer may be difficult. Some employers are quite enlightened when it comes to caring responsibilities, but others struggle to offer the flexibility you may need. You may have the right to ask for flexible working and that is an avenue to explore.

  • As long as you’ve been employed by a company for at least six months, whether as staff or on a fixed-term contract, you can ask for flexible working. This may mean working from home for part of the week, starting earlier, finishing later or even working part-time hours.
  • Your employer doesn’t have to agree to your request to work flexibly. However, they can’t just dismiss it out of hand. If your request is turned down, it must be for a reason related to business, such as, for example, that they wouldn’t be able to reorganise the work between extra staff or it would affect the business’s ability to meet customer demand.

Your employer should also give you time off to deal with family emergencies, although they don’t have to pay you. In the longer term, you may need to reduce your hours or take a career break.

Coping with caring

Switching from being your parent’s child to their carer isn’t always easy. They looked after you for so long that it can be difficult to reverse roles. Some people are natural carers while others struggle with it.

If there are things you don’t have time to do or find too difficult, try not to feel guilty. It’s much better that you do what you can than that you take on too much or become stressed. Make sure you get support from friends and other family members.

Groups such as Carers UK and the Carers’ Trust provide information and support and there is lots of information online depending on the illness or medical condition the person you’re caring for is suffering from. For example, the Alzheimer’s Society website has a busy forum section where carers give each other informal support and advice.

Before making financial decisions always do research, or talk to a financial adviser. Views are those of our mentors and customers and do not constitute financial advice.