Benefits for carers – a quick guide to Carer’s Allowance
Regular readers will know I like to keep you up to date with what’s going on behind the scenes at the DWP, and carers’ issues have been in the news at the time of writing this blog. Frank Field MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee was recently outraged at the Government’s rejection of the majority of the Committee’s recommendations aimed at improving the lives of carers, and literally told the Government to ‘go away and try again’ – a sentiment many carers will share as they contemplate earning £64.60 a week for 35 hours of caring.
However, this blog aims to explore benefits for carers, telling you exactly what Carer’s Allowance is all about, and why all carers need to consider claiming it, especially in order to protect their national insurance contributions and their status as carers.
What kind of benefit is Carer’s Allowance and how much is it?
Carer’s Allowance (CA) is £64.60 a week, and is one of the ‘non-means tested and non-contributory’ benefits. This means that you do not need to have a National Insurance contribution record in order to get it, and you and your partner’s capital, and your partner’s income, do not affect it. However, there is a cap on how much you can earn from work and still be entitled to Carer’s Allowance.
Carer’s Allowance is taxable. However, carers will only have to pay tax if they have other sources of taxable income as Carer’s Allowance on its own is below the basic tax threshold.
Who can claim Carer’s Allowance?
Not every carer is able to get Carer’s Allowance, so you need to check if you meet all the following conditions:
- you look after someone who gets a qualifying disability benefit
- you look after that person for at least 35 hours a week
- you are aged 16 or over
- you are not in full-time education
- you don’t earn over £120 a week (after deductions)
- you satisfy UK presence and residence conditions
What is a qualifying disability benefit?
This means the person you are looking after has to be getting:
- the middle or the higher rate of the care component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
- either rate of the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
- either rate of Attendance Allowance or Constant Attendance Allowance of the normal maximum rate paid with the Industrial Injuries or War Pensions schemes
- Armed Forces Independence Payment (AFIP)
What does the 35 hour rule mean?
The rules say you must be caring for the person for at least 35 hours every week, which can be any time during the day or night, on any day of the week, and can include:
- time spent physically helping the person
- time you spend ‘keeping an eye’ on the person
- time spent doing essential practical tasks for them
Similarly, if you share the caring role with another person, and you both provide at least 35 hours of care every week, only one of you can claim Carer’s Allowance. You need to decide between you who should make the claim. The other person should seek advice about the benefits they can claim, and may be able to claim Carer’s Credit for the time they are caring.
What does ‘full time education’ mean?
The meaning of ‘full-time education’ is complicated and may depend on a number of factors including the type of course you are doing, and how the college describes your course. However, if the supervised study for the course is less than 21 hours a week, then the Carer’s Allowance Unit may allow it, even if the college says it is full time.
If you are in full-time education you also won’t be able to get Carer’s Allowance during temporary absences from your course including holiday periods.
How does the earnings rule work?
If you are in paid work (including self-employment) you cannot get Carer’s Allowance if you earn more than £120 a week AFTER deductions for tax, national insurance and half of any pension contributions. Self-employed people can also deduct expenses which are for business purposes, along the same lines as the income tax rules.
If you are an employee and are paid monthly, your monthly earnings are normally multiplied by 12 months and then divided by 52 weeks to get a weekly figure. If you have fluctuating earnings it is possible for your earnings to be averaged out over a recognisable cycle of work.
If you are in self-employment your average weekly earnings are normally calculated by looking a period which could viewed as representative of your earning cycle, which is normally a tax year unless you argue otherwise.
If, because of your work, you have to pay for someone to look after the person you care for, or for a child under 16 who you or your partner get Child Benefit for, you can deduct those payments from your earnings up to the value of half your earnings (after the above deductions if they apply), as long as the person you are paying is not a close relative.
What are the UK presence and residence conditions?
You cannot usually get Carer’s Allowance if you have immigration restrictions. To satisfy the residence and presence tests you must meet both of the following conditions:
- you must have been present in Great Britain for two out of the last three years and
- you must be habitually resident
Carer’s Allowance and overlapping benefits
You cannot usually be paid Carer’s Allowance if you receive another contribution based benefit or State Pension. These rules are complicated, though, so please get advice from us or a local advice agency before you decide what to do; don’t assume that you can’t claim CA! Even some people claiming State Pension can claim something called the ‘underlying entitlement’ to CA, and will see their Pension Credit and Housing Benefit increase as a result.
Carer’s Allowance and Universal Credit
There is an extra payment available for carers within Universal Credit, and this is called the ‘Carer Element’. It’s available for carers who get CA, and it’s also for carers who are looking after disabled people, but who can’t get CA because their earnings are too high. This is one example of where UC is actually better than the traditional benefits it replaces! (For more info about UC, see my previous blog on……)
A little word of warning
It is common for some disabled people to get an extra premium in their means tested benefits which is called the Severe Disability Premium. This is worth £64.30 a week, roughly the same amount as CA, and it’s usually paid to people who are living alone, and getting Attendance Allowance, DLA or PIP. If you are a carer for someone who gets the Severe Disability Premium, then they will lose it if you start to receive CA, or the Universal Credit carer element.
This is a complicated area, and so it is ALWAYS best to get advice in these circumstances; each case needs to be looked at separately to evaluate the best way to maximise the benefits of both the carer and the disabled person.
Carer’s Allowance is such a small amount – why bother?
It’s true that the amount of CA is very low, and despite many attempts by Carers UK and others, the Government shows no sign of increasing the rate significantly any time soon. However, you should bear in mind that getting CA has some perks:
- You get a Class 1 National Insurance contribution for every week you get CA
- Getting CA can lead to increased amounts of means tested benefits, including housing benefit, income support and universal credit
- Being viewed as an official ‘carer’ by the benefits system means that you will be exempt from having to be a jobseeker, and you will also be exempt from other negative areas of benefits, such as the benefit cap.
- Getting CA can give you access to other useful resources, depending on what is offered by your local authority
How to claim Carer’s Allowance
CA is actually one of the most straightforward benefits to claim, and you can start your claim by following this link:
You can even talk to the friendly people on the Carer’s Allowance helpline:
0800 731 0297
This amazing organisation has been providing essential information and support for carers for a long time, and has an excellent range of helpful resources and factsheets:
How Renaissance Legal can help you
Our specialist benefits consultants can help you with everything benefits-related. If you would like our help in making a claim for Carer’s Allowance, or would like to discuss your benefit situation, then please contact us on 01273 610611.