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Rights of carers

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If you are a carer who looks after a relative, friend or neighbour who needs support because of their sickness, age or disability, you have a number of rights at work and you may be entitled to help and support from your local authority.

Employment rights

Most working carers have the right to:

  • request flexible working arrangements which your employer has a duty to consider;
  • take time off work for dependants in cases of emergency;
  • parental leave if you have a child;
  • not be discriminated against under the Equality Act 2010.

Flexible working

The Work and Families Act 2006 (The Work and Families (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 in Northern Ireland) gives carers the right to ask their employer for changes to their working patterns to better manage their caring and work responsibilities.

You have the right to request flexible working if you are an employee with 26 weeks continuous employment at the date you make an application, and you are:

  • a parent with children under 17 or under 18 if your child(ren) receives Disability Living Allowance;
  • caring for a spouse, partner (who lives with you), civil partner or relative, or live at the same address as the adult in need of care.

There are various ways of working flexibly – you should talk over with your employers which method would suit you best. Arrangements could include:

  • working from home;
  • flexible starting or finishing times;
  • staggered hours
  • compressed working hours (eg, fitting five days working time into four days);
  • term-time working;
  • job-sharing or part-time working;
  • flexible holidays to fit in with alternative care arrangements.

The employer does not have to grant the request but must have a good business reason for refusing. These reasons are:

  • burden of additional costs;
  • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand;
  • inability to reorganise work among existing staff;
  • inability to recruit additional staff;
  • detrimental impact on quality or performance;
  • insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work;
  • planned structural changes.

If your request is rejected you can appeal in writing within 14 days and an appeal meeting must be held. You should take legal advice about possible further action if your appeal fails and you feel the process was not followed properly or you have been discriminated against.

Time off for emergencies

The Employment Rights Act 1996 (in Northern Ireland the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996) entitles employees to take a “reasonable” amount of time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant (ie, your spouse, partner, child or parent, or someone living with you as part of your family). It is up to the employer to decide whether the time off is paid or unpaid. Emergencies could include:

  • a breakdown in care arrangements;
  • the person you care for falls ill or has an accident;
  • your child is involved in an incident during school hours;
  • you need to make longer term care arrangements;
  • you need time off following the death of a dependant.

Right to parental leave

If you have one year's continuous service with your employer and are a parent, adoptive parent or have legal parental responsibility for a child under 18 who is entitled to Disability Living Allowance, you are entitled to:

  • 13 weeks (unpaid) leave per child to look after your child, or
  • 18 weeks (unpaid) leave per child to look after your disabled child.

Leave can be taken in blocks of a week (generally up to four weeks a year), or blocks of a day if the leave is to care for a disabled child (usually up to four weeks a year).

Employers can postpone parental leave for up to six months if taking leave at the time requested would cause particular disruption to the organisation.Parental leave cannot be postponed if it has been requested for the time immediately after the birth of a child or the start of an adoption placement.

Help from your employer

Life for working carers can be complicated and unpredictable so it’s a good idea to talk to your employer who might be able to offer help. This could include:

  • talking to a welfare officer or occupational health adviser who knows about carers;
  • in-house information and advice or counselling;
  • a subscription to a carers' organisation, or employee services

Leaving work

If flexible working etc, isn’t working out for you and you feel you should be caring full-time you can resign. It might be in your best interests though to talk to your employer about taking voluntary redundancy or early retirement which may be mutually beneficial. If you feel you might want to come back to work later on, you could discuss the possibility of a career break with your employers – which is an unpaid break from working can be from six months to three years.

Returning to work

After caring for someone for a while, you may find it hard to return to paid employment. Remember though, as a carer you’ll have learnt new skills and some employers actively recruit returning carers.

Other ex-carers might be worth talking to for advice, or you could speak to an employment advisor at your local Jobcentre Plus office about training opportunities.

If you are thinking about applying for a job, check your potential employer's policy on carers and asking about flexible working opportunities.

Returning to work after being a carer may have an impact on any entitlements and benefits you receive as a carer. The amount of hours you do, how much you earn and your savings will be taken into consideration.

Carer’s assessment

If you are a carer you have the right to an assessment by your local social services department. It examines your situation and concludes whether you are entitled to any services that could make caring easier for you. This could involve financial and/ or emotional support and/ or practical help such as breaks from caring, help with cleaning, or changes to equipment or adaptations to the home.

To prepare for the assessment, note down everything you do for the person you care for and what effect the caring has on you. For example, the impact it has on your health, sleep, social and professional life and how caring affects you because of your health, age, work/ studies and other activities or commitments.

The assessment can be carried out at your home or at the home of the person you are caring for, though the person you care for does not need to be there. You can ask someone to be with you during the assessment, and if there is more than one carer providing regular care in your household, you are both entitled to an assessment.

Care plan

On the basis of the assessment, and the community care assessment of the person you care for, the local authority will draw up a care plan which will detail the help they are prepared to provide. It will look at your income and capital to decide which care services, if any, you may be charged for.

Complaints

If you’re not happy with the way the assessment was carried out, or you do not think you are getting the support and services you need, go through the complaints procedure at your local social services department.

Financial support for carers  

Direct payments

Carers aged 16 or over are sometimes given cash payments instead of being provided with services directly. Your local council has to offer you the option of direct payments in place of the services you currently receive. The amount you get will depend on the assessment your local council makes of your needs.

Direct payments can be used to purchase the services you are assessed as needing to support you in your caring role. This includes support that may help maintain your health and well-being such as driving lessons or a holiday. If you are assessed as needing domestic help, you may ask for a direct payment and buy the support services you need.

Carer’s allowance

You may be entitled to Carer's Allowance if you:

  • are aged 16 or over;
  • care for someone who gets a qualifying disability benefit;
  • look after that person for at least 35 hours a week;
  • are not in full-time education;
  • earn £100 a week or less (after deductions);
  • are a UK resident.

The current weekly rate is £58.45. This is reduced by the amount of certain other benefits, including state pension, which you receive. You may be able to claim extra cash for your spouse or civil partner or someone living with you who looks after your dependent children.

Other benefits

If you look after a disabled child or adult you may be able to get help with your rent (housing benefit) and council tax. You may also get extra child tax credit, sure start maternity grant, and child maintenance if you care for a disabled child. If you are responsible for a child under 19, or sometimes under 20, you will get the disabled child premium if either the dependant is getting disability living allowance or the dependant is registered blind.

The Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004

The Act places a duty on local authorities to ensure that all carers know they are entitled to an assessment of their needs, and to consider a carer's outside interests - work, study or leisure - when carrying out an assessment.

Caring for a disabled child

Under the Children Act 1989, if you have parental responsibility for a disabled child, your needs as a carer will be assessed as part of a family needs assessment. You do not need to be the mother or father of the child. You can contact the council directly, or you can ask your doctor (GP) to contact them on your behalf.