Advice and opinions

How to access respite care as an unpaid carer

Mark Topps speaks to several unpaid carers to find out more about local authority and charity respite funding options, and potential barriers to accessing these.

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A rear view of a middle-aged couple from the waist up, with a man on the left and a woman on the right, walking across a crossing, with the woman's placed on man's left shoulder.
Mark Topps
Mark Topps
Regional Business Manager
Published on:
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8-minute read

What’s respite care?

Respite is a short break from caring and there are several different types, including:

  • Day centres
  • Home care
  • Respite holidays
  • Short-term care home placements
  • Sitting services.

Getting support from your local authority

The first step is to ask your local authority, or if you have one, an allocated social worker, for a carer’s assessment as this will be your chance to discuss your needs and the support you require.

As part of the process, a financial assessment will be completed, so that the local authority can establish what you can and can’t afford to pay for. It’s important to remember that if your needs change (e.g., you increase or decrease the amount of care you’re providing) that you ask for a re-assessment.

One of the options you may be offered is a personal budget, also known as direct payments, self-directed payments and self-directed support. A personal budget is when the local authority gives you a certain amount of money to spend based on how much services cost within your local area.

Getting support from charities

You may be eligible for a Carers Trust grant. The Trust will be able to guide you through everything you need to know, help signpost you to other services, let you know whether you could be eligible and will support you to claim all eligible benefits.

There are several other great services that can offer you support, including:

  • Turn2Us
    A free service that can support you to access benefits, grants and other financial help. The website features an easy-to-use grants search and benefits calculator.
  • Respite Association
    A charity that provides short term funding for respite care.
  • Carers UK
    A charity who provide help and advice, as well as connecting you to other carers in your local community.
  • Unpaid carer Facebook groups
    These can offer a wealth of information, with many people sharing resources and advice.

Barriers to getting respite support

Long waiting times

Unfortunately, there are long waiting times in parts of the country for local authority support, and this has been made worse due to the pandemic and social workers leaving the sector. If you’re experiencing a delay, try to persevere, keep chasing and if needed speak to your local MP to get things moving in the right direction.

Difficulty finding replacement care

Finding someone to come and deliver home care or a sitting service has long been a challenge. Because of the pandemic, many service stopped operating, leaving fewer places for the limited number of services left. One unpaid carer I spoke to found that some services refused support where more complex care was needed like hoisting, opting for "lighter" duties.

Increase in the cost-of-living

Unpaid carers have been hit hard by the cost-of-living crisis. Just under 45% of unpaid carers told Carers UK that they’re currently unable to manage their monthly expenses, so finding some extra money to pay for a break/travel/food etc is becoming harder.

Insufficient direct payments

Many unpaid carers have reported that the amount of money received from local authorities for doesn’t cover the cost of external care services. For example, one unpaid carer told me they get £12 per hour, however the cost of carers in their area is around £14. In this case, many are left to fund the difference in the cost of care or make the decision to have less support for loved ones whilst they’re away.

Grants that don’t cover all costs

One unpaid carer I spoke to told me that often grants don’t cover the cost of respite care but rather the cost of the accommodation, with a small amount of money left over to pay for travel or food on occasion. He told me covering the cost of care is what he really need supports for.

Benefits being revoked

One unpaid carer told me that their carers allowance was stopped due to number of days she took as a break from caring. The rules can be complicated and I’d recommend contacting the Carer’s Allowance Unit for advice.

Keep persevering

Accessing respite care is not as easy and straightforward as it should be but there are several organisations and charities available to support and signpost.

After talking to unpaid carers and looking through Facebook groups, it’s clear that it’s an uphill battle, but there’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel if you get the right people behind you.

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