Business

Carers 'miss out on millions of pounds in allowances'

Care worker

Hundreds of thousands of people who care for friends or family members are missing out on financial support, says the charity Carers UK.

There is a £53.90-a-week Carer's Allowance, but it is often not claimed.

Until this year Yasmine Maya, who is in her thirties and looks after both her parents, was one of them.

"I started from a very young age. I didn't realise that I could have claimed carers allowance from maybe 10 years ago," Yasmine told the BBC.

"I was basically doing a job unpaid.

"Yes, they're my parents and I care for them dearly but it is a job and I wasn't getting paid for it and I missed out," she says.

'Dark period'

Carers UK estimates that nearly 300,000 carers are neglecting to claim the allowance, making a total loss of £840m.

It is designed to provide extra support for over-16s who are caring for more than 35 hours a week.

"We're calling for professionals who work in the NHS, employers, family members, anyone who knows a carer or might come into contact with a carer, to say that there might be benefits you can claim," said the director of policy at Carers UK, Emily Holzhausen.

Yasmine, from London, had to give up her job as a youth worker.

Her father suffers from dementia and has had several strokes and her mother, who has arthritis, has had both hips replaced.

Typically, many of the two million people who start caring every year don't realise that they qualify for help.

Yasmine only found out when she was sorting out her parents' benefits and was told that she could claim for herself.

"I look back on that time as a really dark period in my life," she says.

"Because no-one likes to ask for help, but if there is help out there, there should be a way to access it and there isn't at the moment."

Other benefits

Carers on low incomes might qualify for other benefits on top of the allowance, such as means-tested Income Support and Pension Credit.

Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, available via local councils, might be available too.

However, some benefits overlap with Carer's Allowance, including Jobseeker's Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and the State Pension.

Usually the claimant would receive whichever of the payments was largest.

Gary Vaux, head of money advice at Hertfordshire County Council, said many of the rules surrounding the Carer's Allowance were complicated.

"You can't get Carer's Allowance and a retirement pension for example, yet many older people are carers and should still claim the allowance."

"It acts as a sort of proof that you are a carer, which can get you more access to things like housing benefit, pension credit etc," he added.

Carers UK can be contacted at www.carersuk.org; adviceline on 0808 808 7777

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