This advice applies to Northern Ireland. Change country
Carers: help and support
You can get help and support if you're responsible for looking after someone who has a disability, is getting old or has become ill. This can range from practical help to make day-to-day life easier to benefits like Carer's Allowance.
Am I a carer?
A carer is someone who regularly provides a substantial amount of care on a regular basis to a family member, friend or neighbour who is ill, disabled or is frail due to being older and who could not cope without your help. You’re probably a carer if:
- you do things like helping someone to wash, dress and eat; taking them to regular appointments, doing their shopping or keeping them company
- you aren’t paid to look after the person you’re caring for
- you spend a lot of time caring for the person - there’s no legal definition of this, but it could mean anything from a few hours a day, to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
In order to be a carer, you do not have to:
- live with the person you are providing care for
- be the only carer
- be related to the person you are providing care for
Practical help for carers
Your local Health and Social Care (HSC) Trust might be able to arrange practical help to allow you to care more effectively and reduce your stress. This could include things like arranging for someone to step in for a while to give you a break or providing some extra support for the person you care for, to give you more time for your other responsibilities.
To see if you can get practical help, you'll need the HSC Trust to carry out a carer's assessment. All carers are entitled to this, regardless of their level of income or any capital (savings or land property) they have.
The carer's assessment looks at how caring affects your life and work, and how you can carry on doing the things that are important to you and your family. A carer's assessment isn't an exam - you won't be judged on whether the care you give is good enough.
Getting a carer’s assessment
Contact the HSC Trust covering the area where the person you care for lives. Tell them you’re a carer and ask them to carry out a carer’s assessment for you. You can ask for an assessment at any time, regardless of whether the person you care for is being assessed. If your situation changes, eg you need more support, you can ask for a re-assessment. If there is more than one carer providing regular care, they are each entitled to an assessment.
You can get more details about getting a carer’s assessment from your local HSC Trust's website.
What to expect from the carer’s assessment
The carer’s assessment is normally a face to face meeting with a trained person employed by the local HSC Trust, eg a social worker, a district nurse or an occupational therapist. It could be at your home or the home of the person you care for. It’s up to you whether you want the person you care for to be present.
The assessment is about your needs as a carer, not the needs of the person you are looking after. It looks at how being a carer affects you, how much caring you are able to do whilst still maintaining other activities and what help you need. You need to mention any difficulties you have with your caring role and what additional support you need to meet the needs of the person you are caring for.
In the assessment, you’ll discuss things like:
- how much time you spend caring for the person and whether this is during the day, at night or both
- what sort of tasks you need to help them with, such as getting dressed, bathing, shopping, eating or dealing with money, whether anyone else helps and if so, for how long
- whether carrying out your caring duties leaves you with enough time for your work, family and hobbies
- whether any aspects of caring for the person are particularly hard to deal withegdo you worry about your own safety when helping them up the stairs,
- how caring is affecting your physical and mental health
- whether you have a plan in place for emergencies eg to make sure the person you care for would be looked after if you were taken ill and had to go to hospital
It’s a good idea to spend some time before the assessment thinking about these questions and how caring for someone affects your life and what might make things easier for you.You could keep a diary for a week showing the time you have spent with the person you care for and what tasks you carried out or make a list of all the things you do for the person you care for.
Get more help to prepare for the assessment from Carers NI.
What happens after the assessment
You’ll get a letter from the person who carried out your assessment telling you what support needs were identified and how the HSC Trust intends to meet these needs. Social services will develop a care plan based on your carer’s assessment and the community care assessment of the person that you are caring for, if one has been carried out. Some help may be provided to the person you care for rather than directly to you, eg if you are having difficulties lifting them they may be given equipment to help, or, if you need a break from caring, they may be given respite care or a place at a day centre.
Services that may help you and the person you care for include:
- a break from caring
- help with housework or shopping
- disability equipment or adaptations to the home of the person you care for
- emotional support such as information on local support groups or training on stress management and relaxation techniques.
You can choose to get a direct payment rather than having the services provided to you, if you prefer. A direct payment allows you to arrange your support in a way that suits you best eg, if you have been assessed as needing help with housework you can get a direct payment to employ your own cleaner. You can get a direct payment if:
- you are over 16; and
- you are assessed by the HSC Trust as needing help from social services.
You cannot use a direct payment to buy services for the person you are looking after, only to pay for services you have been assessed as needing to carry out your role as a carer. You also cannot use direct payments to pay for services from your spouse, civil partner, close relative or anyone living in your household unless the HSC Trust specifically agrees to this.
For more information on direct payments see www.nidirect.gov.uk.
Paying for your practical help
You may have to pay for some services you receive as a carer, depending on your financial circumstances. Once the local HSC Trust has worked out what support you need, they will then carry out a financial assessment to work out whether you can afford to pay towards it. You can choose not to have a financial assessment but then you will have to pay the full amount for any services you receive.
The financial assessment will take into account:
- your income, for example your wages or a pension
- investments including any land and property you own apart from the home you live in
- whether you get benefits or other financial support
- your expenses, such as utility bills and rent
You will not be charged for services provided to the person that you care for.
For more information see www.nidirect.gov.uk.
If you’re unhappy with the assessment
If you disagree with the outcome of the carer’s assessment or you’re unhappy with how you’ve been treated, you can complain to social services. All HSC Trusts should have a complaints procedure you can follow - ask them for a copy. If you are not happy with the outcome, you can take your complaint to the Northern Ireland Ombudsman.
You might find it helpful to contact a specialist adviser, for example at your nearest Citizens Advice, who can help you with your complaint. You can also get confidential information and advice, as well as help to make a complaint, from the Patient and Client Council.
Help with money
You may be able to get help to increase your income if your caring duties are affecting your finances.
Depending on your income, assets and living arrangements, you might be able to:
- apply for Carer’s Allowance and other benefits
- get help with paying for healthcare costs if you are on a low income
- cut down your household costs, including getting grants to make your home more energy efficient, a free or discounted TV licence from TV Licensing, or help with your rates
- have your contributions towards your state pension covered by the government if you've given up or cut down paid work to care for someone - Carers UK has advice to help you protect your pension
- get a grant or other financial help from a local charity or trust - Turn2Us has details of charities that might be able to help you
You can get free and impartial help to sort out your finances if you're worried about having enough money to live on and meet your existing commitments. This could include better budgeting, learning how to make your money go further and dealing with debt problems.
Other help for carers
Help from your employer
You don’t have to tell your boss about your caring responsibilities, but if you do so they may be able to offer you additional support to help you balance your work and caring responsibilities. If you’re an employee, your employer must offer you certain legal rights. These include:
- the right to ask for flexible working, such as reducing your hours or working from home - anyone has the right to ask for flexible working.
- time off in emergencies - meaning if the person you care for falls ill, has an accident or is without care unexpectedly, you have the right to take time off work to deal with it. You should tell your boss that you need time off as soon as possible after the emergency has occurred and it is up to them whether or not you are paid for your time off.
Your employer isn't obliged to offer you more than your legal rights, but some workplaces have policies that might give you more support or time off, for example through applying for a career break. Check with your employer or HR department to find out more.
If you are thinking of giving up your job to care for someone, it is important to consider the consequences of doing this. You need to think about how you will manage with less money, whether you can give up the independence and social contact your job gives you, whether you will lose skills and whether your pension will be affected. You should talk to your employer and discuss whether you might be able to get flexible working hours, a period of paid or unpaid leave or a career break and/or find out if you can get more help from social services or employ someone to provide cover whilst you are at work.
Support from other carers
You may find it helpful to speak to other people who understand the issues carers can face. Carers NI has details of local support groups where you can meet other carers like you.
Protection from discrimination
You’re protected from discrimination because of your caring responsibilities. This means you can take action if you think you've been treated unfairly because you're a carer. For example, you can't be refused a promotion at work because of your caring responsibilities.
Help for the person you’re caring for
Making sure the person you’re caring for gets all the social care and support they’re entitled to could mean your role as a carer is made easier. They're entitled to get a community care assessment from the HSC Trust.
Depending on the person’s situation they may also be able to:
- claim benefits
- make arrangements for you to look after their affairs, for example through power of attorney
- complain about the social care and support services they've received
Further help and advice is available from www.nidirect.gov.uk.
If you're a young carer (under 18) you can get local and online support from the Carers Trust or from Barnardo’s Northern Ireland (phone 028 7963 4402) or from Action for Children (phone 028 9046 0500).
More information on the support and help available to young carers can be found online at www.nidirect.gov.uk.
If you're a parent carer of a child under 18 with disabilities, www.nidirect.gov.uk has information about your rights and the support you can get.
If you are a carer for someone who is terminally ill, see www.nidirect.gov.uk for information on the practical, financial and emotional support available to you and the person you are caring for. There are also a number of organisations you can contact.