Carers’ legislation

The 2011 census showed that 5.4 million people in England (10.2% of the population) were providing some level of unpaid care, with 1.3 million (2.4%) providing 50 or more hours of unpaid care per week.

Carers’ legislation is a relatively recent phenomenon. The needs of carers, independent of the needs of those they are caring for, have been recognised and subsequently strengthened in law by three Private Members’ Bills that became Acts of Parliament: The Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995, the Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000, and the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004.

These have recently been further strengthened by the Care Act 2014, which for the first time means that carers will be recognised in the law in the same way as those they care for.  The Department of Health explains that the changes mean that:

  • local authorities have a responsibility to assess a carer’s needs for support, where the carer appears to have such needs;
  • following the assessment, the local authority must decide whether the carer’s needs are ‘eligible’ for support from the local authority. This approach is similar to that used for adults with care and support needs;
  • the local authority and the carer will agree a support plan;
  • carers should receive a personal budget, which is a statement showing the cost of meeting their needs, as part of their support plan.[1]

The Children and Families Act 2014 gives young carers (and parent carers) similar rights to assessment as other carers have under the Care Act.

Carers’ Allowance

Carer’s Allowance – formerly Invalid Care Allowance – is a non-contributory, non-means-tested benefit paid to people who care full-time for someone who is severely disabled. To be entitled to Carer’s Allowance, a person must be providing at least 35 hours of care a week for someone in receipt of a qualifying disability benefit, not be in full-time education, and, if in paid work, have earnings after certain deductions of no more than £110 a week.

Entitlement to Carer’s Allowance also acts as a “passport” to the carer premiums/additions in means-tested benefits such as Income Support, Pension Credit and Housing Benefit.

Issues frequently raised in relation to Carer’s Allowance include:

  • The level of Carer’s Allowance, when compared with other “income replacement” benefits
  • The problems faced by people seeking to study or do paid work while claiming Carer’s Allowance
  • The fact that Carer’s Allowance cannot be paid in addition to certain other state benefits, including the Retirement Pension

Flexible working

On 30 June 2015 the Government extended a right request flexible working arrangements after a 26 weeks’ qualifying period, building on a previous entitlement for some carers. An employee with 26 weeks’ continuous employment has the right to request flexible working; a change to their hours, times or location of work (e.g. reducing working time, working from home or working compressed hours).

For a full discussion of the relevant law and policy, see the Library’s briefing paper, Flexible working.

[1]     Department of Health, Guidance – Care Act factsheets – Factsheet 8: the law for carers, updated 19 April 2016

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