Take care you don’t miss out on helper’s allowances

Hundreds of thousands of Britain’s 6.5 million carers are not claimingstate benefits and allowances for which they are eligible, say campaigners – who also warn about the impact of cutbacks to the disability living allowance.

Almost a third of people looking after an older, disabled or seriously ill family member or friend struggle to cover basic living costs, and more than one in five is in debt and finding it dificult to cope financially, a report published by the Money Advice Service suggests.

Deborah Stone, managing director of advice websitemyageingparent.com, says: “The commitments of a carer make it very difficult to hold down a job and, even if they do work, their job will often be part time and low pay. But there are benefits and allowances that can provide some financial help, and knowing your entitlements is the first step to getting that help.”

The most recent study into carers and unclaimed state benefits, published in 2010 by campaigning charity Carers UK, found that an estimated 301,029 people were missing out on £843m in carer’s allowance, and there is no reason to believe take-up has improved since then.

“Many carers do not claim benefits simply because they do not realise they are entitled to them,” says Steve McIntosh, policy manager at Carers UK. “Two million people take on caring responsibilities each year, perhaps after a loved one has a fall, a stroke, or is diagnosed with dementia or cancer. While trying to adjust to life as a carer, many people aren’t given advice on the help available. We fear things are getting harder as funding pressures reduce the provision of local advice and support.”

Carers UK has a helpline (0808 808 7777, open Wednesdays and Thursdays 10am-12pm and 2pm-4pm) or you can emailadviceline@carersuk.org.

The main benefit for carers is the carer’s allowance, paying £59.75 a week. To claim you need to be aged 16 or over and spend at least 35 hours a week caring for someone with substantial caring needs, who themselves receive a qualifying disability benefit. This can include attendance allowance; disability living allowance at either the middle or highest rate for personal care needs; or the daily living component of personal independence payment, which is gradually replacing the disability living allowance. You do not have to be related to, or live with, the person you care for.

You cannot claim carer’s allowance if you earn more than £100 a week after tax and other deductions, or are in full-time education. You can normally only receive carer’s allowance if you are not already claiming a state pension or certain other benefits. But it is still worth applying, as you might qualify for a small amount of extra money paid with your existing benefits or pension.

Go to gov.uk/benefits-adviser to work out how much you can get and whether your other benefits will be affected. The allowance can be backdated for up to three months if you began caring before you applied.

If you cannot claim carer’s allowance, you may still be able to receive some financial help. If you spend more than 20 hours a week as a carer and are not yet receiving a state pension, you might be able to claimcarer’s credits towards your future state pension. Note that if you are receiving the carer’s allowance you do not need to apply for carer’s credits as they are automatically put in place.

If you do not qualify for the carer’s allowance because you receive benefits such as income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, housing benefit or – in some cases – the new universal credit, you might be entitled to an additional carer premium worth £33.30 a week.

The carer addition is an equivalent benefit to carer premium (you can claim one of these but not both), which is paid with pension credit and provides extra income for carers who receive a state pension and so do not qualify for carer’s allowance.

If you live with the person you are caring for, you may qualify for a council tax reduction. Contact your local council to check.

Be aware, the government’s incoming changes and cuts to disability benefits will be bad news for some people currently eligible for the carer’s allowance. The main disability benefit for working-age people, the disability living allowance (DLA), is gradually being replaced by the personal independence payment which involves a new assessment process and new eligibility criteria. The change will be fully implemented by 2017-18.

“Very large numbers of disabled people who currently get the DLA will not be eligible for the new personal independence payment,” McIntosh says. “If you are caring for a disabled person who loses support, you will lose the carer’s allowance.”

The government has said that by 2015 almost 10,000 fewer carers will be entitled to the carer’s allowance because of this change. “For families already struggling with extra costs and a loss of earnings because of disability and caring, losing carers and disability benefits simultaneously could be devastating,” McIntosh says.

“It is vital that anyone caring for an older or disabled loved one gets advice on what financial and practical support is available, particularly if their benefits are affected by the government’s changes.”

Other schemes and entitlements for carers