Benefits for working carers
Taking on a caring role for a friend or loved one can be a daunting task, both physically and mentally, and many carers find themselves in need of extra help. A common question from carers is whether they can claim any benefits that might support them alongside their working life.
Most carers assume benefits are simply not an option for them if they are earning, and some people also worry about claiming benefits, because of bad press around ‘dole scroungers’. But there are some benefits and entitlements that a carer can explore, especially if their caring role has meant they have had to cut down their working hours, or take a career break.
The main benefit aimed at carers is the Carer’s Allowance. This benefit will pay £62.70 a week if you are caring for a disabled person for at least 35 hours a week.
Unfortunately, if you are working, even if you have drastically cut down your hours, the chances are you will not be able to claim Carer’s Allowance. This is because you cannot claim the benefit if your net earnings are over £116 a week.
But if that is the case for you, you shouldn’t give up straight away, as you may have an ‘underlying entitlement’ to Carer’s Allowance, which can bring other advantages.
'UNDERLYING ENTITLEMENT' EXPLAINED
It is pretty common for carers to fulfil all the other criteria for claiming Carer’s Allowance, but be over the earnings threshold. In this case, although you cannot claim that allowance, the government acknowledges that you have an ‘underlying entitlement’ because you are a carer. This brings certain advantages.
Firstly, if you are entitled to any other benefits, you could qualify for a ‘carer premium’ on top. For example, if you claim Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) you will get an extra payment on top of your usual amount.
Another advantage is that, as a household, you will be exempt from the benefits cap. You might also be entitled to a Council Tax reduction.
OTHER CRITERIA FOR CLAIMING CARER'S ALLOWANCE
There are other criteria for claiming Carer’s Allowance, the main one being that the person you care for gets a relevant disability benefit. This will either be a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or an Attendance Allowance (AA).
There are different qualifying factors for each, but if the person you are caring for does not get any kind of benefit, you should investigate this immediately.
- Personal Independence Payment
If the person is under 65 they can apply for PIP. This replaces the old Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which is no longer given, except to children. (There may still be some adults on the old DLA, but they are gradually being moved over to PIP).
PIP is paid at different rates depending on need and is calculated with a (rather lengthy!) application form and, usually, a face-to-face assessment.
- Attendance Allowance
If the person you are caring for is over 65 they can apply for Attendance Allowance. This is a non-means tested benefit which is designed to help those with illnesses or disabilities. It is paid at two rates: a lower rate of £55.65 and a higher rate of £83.10. The rate given will depend on their level of need.
OTHER BENEFITS TO CONSIDER
There are several other benefits which it might be worth you looking into as a carer:
- Jobseekers Allowance
Most people are familiar with Jobseekers Allowance, which you can claim while you’re searching for work. As mentioned above, you would be able to claim a carer premium of £34.95 a week on top of your normal Jobseekers Allowance. For example, if you are over 25, single and on Jobseekers Allowance you would normally receive £73.10 a week. This would be bumped up to £108.05 with the carer premium.
- Employment and Support Allowance
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit for those who are unable to work due to ill health. If you find your own health is suffering, you can claim this benefit for yourself; again, if you are over 25 and single, the rate would be £73.10 a week, rising to £108.05 with the carer premium (there are different rates payable depending on your circumstances).
If your health is good, then make sure you have considered whether the person you are caring for could also claim ESA on top of their disability payment.
- Income Support
Another possible benefit is Income Support, which you can claim on the grounds of being a carer. The main criteria are that you must be working less than 16 hours a week, you can’t be claiming either Jobseekers Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance, and you can’t have more than £16,000 in savings.
If you are considering making a claim, you should call your local Jobcentre Plus. They will need to know your personal circumstances, including whether you are single, in a couple, or a lone parent, and whether you have an ‘underlying entitlement’ to Carer’s Allowance or any other premiums. They can then calculate how much Income Support you could receive.
DON'T GIVE UP!
As you can see, the benefits system is a bit of a maze and it can sometimes feel like all the red tape is designed to put people off! If you are caring for someone else, you deserve all the help and support you can get. Making sure you know about your rights and entitlements is the first step towards improving the situation for both of you.
Useful Sources of Information
By Rosalind Kent, a freelance writer who has worked for a carers charity, advising and advocating for carers and the people they care for.