CARER’S ALLOWANCE FACTSHEET
As compiled by Professor Eileen Evason, CBE for BBC Radio Ulster’s On Your Behalf Programme
Carer’s Allowance (CA) is a non-means-tested, non-contributory benefit.
In plainer English this means that carers do not have to go through a means-test (though there are various restrictions noted below) to qualify for this benefit and there are no national insurance contribution conditions governing access to it.
It is estimated that about 250,000 people in Northern Ireland provide assistance to others because they are elderly or disabled.
However, only a minority of carers get CA. This is because of the many conditions attached to receipt of this benefit.
It should be noted that, though it is unclear when this will happen, it is expected that Northern Ireland will come into line with the rest of the UK and Disability Living Allowance will be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for those of working age.
At this point some carers may lose CA as people with disabilities will find it more difficult to qualify for PIP.
What are the main conditions for this benefit?
Put briefly, there are four main conditions. The first condition for CA is that you must normally spend at least 35 hours a week caring.
Remember caring includes supervision-watching out for someone - as well as direct assistance so this should be counted as well.
Secondly, the person cared for must be getting Attendance Allowance OR the Disability Living Allowance care component at the middle or higher rate OR certain industrial injuries benefits.
Thirdly, carers must not be in full time education or full time work – that is earning more than £102 (net) a week after allowable expenses.
Finally, claimants must be aged 16 or over.
As a result of various changes, CA can now be claimed by persons aged 65 or over but such persons may gain little by virtue of the overlapping benefits regulations - see below.
How much is CA?
This is a very ungenerous benefit considering the savings to the NHS that are made because of the help carers provide.
Carers receive £61.35 a week for themselves. Small additions for dependents may also be payable.
How does CA interact with other benefits?
This is a very complex area but, broadly speaking, CA interacts with other benefits in three main ways.
(a) First, if you are getting a means-tested benefit, such as Income Support, CA is taken into account in full. This is not quite as bad as it sounds because receipt of CA gives claimants entitlement to something called the Carer premium. For example, someone getting £100 Income Support would have their entitlement reduced by their CA (£61.35) but then increased by the Carer premium (£34.20) and would thus be £34.20 better off when account is taken of all of their income.
(b) Secondly, a claim for CA can impact upon the entitlement of the person cared for. For example, it could affect an elderly mother, who is in receipt of Attendance Allowance, lives alone and is getting means –tested Pension Credit. Because she lives alone and is on Attendance Allowance, with nobody claiming CA for assisting her, the mother may be getting extra Pension Credit by way of something called the Severe disability addition. She will lose this once someone receives CA for helping her. In such situations carers should seek advice before making a claim.
(c) Thirdly, there are the overlapping benefits regulations.These regulations contain a list of benefits and claimants cannot receive more than one of these benefits, at the full rate, at the same time.
CA is on the list as is the State Retirement Pension.
Thus, a common situation is one where the carer reaches state pension age and claims the pension only to discover they have lost their CA even though they are still carers.
Many carers are tripped up by these regulations and feel unfairly treated. This is because carers see CA as recognition of what they do and think it should be paid on top of any other entitlement they have.
Unfortunately government sees CA as recompense for wages foregone as a result of caring and this is why it is on the list.
Given the lowness of CA, this reasoning is difficult to follow but the upshot of these provisions is that there are no grounds for challenging the loss of CA where these regulations apply.
Commonly asked questions
1. Do you have to be related to the person you care for to get this benefit? No – you can qualify for helping neighbours and friends as well as other family members.
2. Do you have to live with the person cared for? No - many carers, for example those helping elderly parents, will live in another household but will still qualify for CA.
3. Supposing someone needs a lot of help and two people are providing care. Will both get CA?
No - the rule is that only one person can claim CA for each disabled person. Where more than one person is providing care, they need to think carefully about who should claim this benefit and take advice.
4. Supposing someone is caring for more than one person. Do they get extra?
No - the standard rate of benefit is paid regardless of how much caring someone is doing.
Additionally, carers cannot simply add up all of the care they provide. To qualify for CA at least one of the persons cared for must be assisted for the prescribed 35 hours a week.
5. What happens to CA when the person cared for dies? CA can continue for up to eight weeks after the death to give carers a chance to adjust.
6. What happens when people make late claims for CA because they do not realise they are entitled to it? CA can be backdated but only for three months.
Other points to think about
1. If you are considering claiming CA talk to your local CAB or Independent Advice Centre.
2. The thirty five hour rule sounds quite onerous but carers do things, and watch out for problems, without thinking. Keep a diary for a week putting down everything that could count as caring/supervision and then take this with you to your advice centre.
3. If you are not awarded CA because of the overlapping benefits regulations you are still officially recognised as a carer for the purpose of means-tested benefits.
This means a more generous view is taken of your entitlement. Your benefit could go up or, if you are not already getting means-tested help, you could now come within the scope of it.
You will also qualify for credits to help you meet the contribution conditions for various national insurance benefits.
4. Again your local advice centre should be able to help on this.OR you can contact us at On Your Behalf email@example.com