Taking the steps to become a full-time carer can be stressful, particularly if you’re caring for a loved one. However, there are a few ways to make the process easier for you and your relative. We’ve put together everything you need to know.
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When will I need to become a carer for my family member?
You may need to become a full-time carer for your family member when they can no longer care for themselves. This might be because they’re terminally ill or struggling with an injury.
Simply put, you're a carer if you’re undertaking caring responsibilities or supporting your family member. However, to be considered for income support as a carer, you must provide more than 35 hours a week of full-time support or care for your loved one. This support can include:
- Assisting with personal care, including bathing or dressing.
- Supporting with taking medication or taking them to appointments.
- Keeping the individual company or offering emotional support.
- Doing shopping and running errands.
The person you care for doesn’t necessarily have to be a relative; they can be a friend, neighbour or work colleague. The vital distinction is the amount of time you spend caring for them.
Is there a list of health conditions that need full-time care?
Your family member may need a carer for various reasons, and you may need to provide short- or long-term support, depending on your loved one’s illness. Common health conditions that require regular care include:
- Mental health conditions.
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
- Injuries, such as a painful fall.
Typically, the NHS suggests looking into care for your loved one if they’re finding it difficult to cope with daily tasks, such as getting dressed alone. You’ll also need to consider if your relative can safely live in their current home.
Does my relative need to consent before I become their carer?
In an ideal world, a family member will fully consent to you being their carer. However, conditions such as dementia can make it difficult for individuals to make informed decisions about their care.
Under the Mental Capacity Act, all adults are assumed to have capacity unless proven otherwise. Those who are impaired may struggle with remembering information, understanding it, and using it to make a decision. Their ability to communicate that decision can be impaired as well.
If you feel that your relative cannot consent to the care you offer or does not have the capacity for it, you can speak to your GP or social worker. They may arrange a capacity assessment to determine whether your relative can make clear decisions regarding what’s best for their care.
Following this, it’s important to ensure your family member is closely involved with their care, even if it’s just to make simple decisions about what they want to eat or how they want to dress.
So, what do I need to become a full-time carer?
You need to do a few things to become a full-time carer. You’ll need to register as a carer with your GP so that they can support you as best they can. You can do this by adding your name to the carers’ register, a list of patients who are unpaid carers for their loved ones. This is a relatively simple process to sort out with your doctor.
Social services should also assess your loved one's needs to ensure that you are best placed to care for them during their illness or injury.
How do I get a carer’s assessment?
Social services undertake your carer’s assessment to recommend support that may help you in the carer element of your role. This assessment is free and available to anyone over 18. You can request a carer’s assessment through your local council, and support may include extra help from paid carers or respite care for your loved one so that you can have a break.
If you’re under 18 years old, you can get a young carer’s assessment to decide if you’re in a suitable position to care for your family member. This will also determine what kind of support you get while you look after your relative and how this will affect your future life. If you’re over 16 years old and not in full-time education, you may also be able to get financial support and help finding a job.
How do I get a needs assessment for my family member?
If your role as a carer is likely to become long-term due to a loved one’s progressing old age or health condition, you should have them assessed by social services. Social care workers will undertake a needs assessment to determine what can be done to improve the quality of your family member’s life and ensure their safety.
A social worker or an occupational therapist can undertake a needs assessment. They can make a range of recommendations, including:
- Making adaptations to the home.
- Getting help from paid carers.
- Providing moving and handling equipment.
- Offering access to clubs or day centres.
Anyone over the age of 18 can request a needs assessment. You can apply for an assessment on behalf of your loved one by contacting your local council or online through the GOV.UK website.
Can I access financial support as a carer?
Depending on your current income and whether you claim any benefits or draw from a pension, you may be entitled to some financial support from the government to cover care costs. This means-tested benefit is called Carer’s Allowance, and it’s currently £76.75 per week (2023/24).
Available in England, Wales and Scotland, you need to meet a few key pieces of eligibility criteria to claim Carer’s Allowance. The person you care for must receive another benefit, such as:
- Disability Living Allowance.
- Personal Independence Payment.
- Child Disability Payment.
- Attendance Allowance.
It’s also important to remember that Carer’s Allowance may affect your other government or disability benefits. For example, your Universal Credit payments may decrease. You also can’t get your full State Pension and Carer’s Allowance simultaneously, but your Pension Credit payments may increase.
If more than one person cares for an individual, only one carer can claim Carer’s Allowance. You can apply for this benefit through the UK government website or by post. In Scotland, carers will also receive an additional benefit called Carer’s Allowance Supplement twice a year.
You’ll need supporting documentation about yourself to apply for Carer’s Allowance, such as your National Insurance number, income from employment or a State Pension, and information about the individual you’re caring for.
A benefits calculator can help you see your entitlement before you apply, and you can backdate your claim by three months if you’ve been a carer for a while. Contact the Carer’s Allowance Unit for more information about your claim.
Can I get Carer’s Credit?
If you can’t access Carer’s Allowance, you may still be able to get Carer’s Credit. This National Insurance Credit is available to those looking after a loved one for at least 20 hours per week.
You’ll need to be over 16 years old and under the State Pension age to qualify for Carer’s Credit, and your loved one may also need to receive certain government benefits similar to Carer’s Allowance. You’ll get credits to help fill gaps in your National Insurance record, letting you take on considerable caring responsibilities without affecting your State Pension eligibility.
Do I need power of attorney for my family member?
Lasting power of attorney is a legal document that appoints specific people to make decisions on behalf of an individual if they lose capacity. Two distinct types cover health and welfare, and property and finances. You can create either or both types for your family member. Power of attorney is typically put in place whilst individuals can make advance decisions about their future care or affairs.
If your loved one has already lost capacity, a deputyship order from the Court of Protection serves a similar purpose to a lasting power of attorney. As a family member or caregiver, you can apply for a deputyship order, giving you the authority to make decisions on behalf of your loved one.
Both of these approaches involve the legal rights of your relative, so it’s essential to consult a solicitor before putting a Power of Attorney or a deputyship order in place. Your local Citizen's Advice may also be able to offer support and guidance if you want to set up a standard Power of Attorney.
How can I access further care for my loved one?
Whilst you may be keen to do a lot of the caring yourself, there are other short- and long-term options. Day centres and groups provide structured activities for your loved one, as well as offering you a break. You can also organise short-term respite funded through social care or by your family member.
A carer’s assessment may suggest support through paid carers to give you a break, or money towards transport for appointments or moving equipment if necessary. The person you care for may also be able to access Personal Independence Payment (PIP). This is extra money to help pay someone to look after your relative. The daily living component aspect of this benefit can help pay for everyday tasks, such as making food or getting dressed, for example.
In the long term, you may want to look at whether a residential care home is the best place for your loved one, particularly if their condition becomes too much for you to manage. A care home may also be able to offer specialised care.
Depending on their needs, various professionals, such as their GP, social workers, occupational therapists, district nurses, or paid carers, will likely be involved in your relative's care.
Is there anywhere I can get advice and support about being a carer?
Looking after an ill or disabled person can affect your mental and physical health, so it’s important to think about how your caring responsibilities may affect your own life.
Many organisations and charities support carers through telephone or local support groups. If you’re struggling with something, carer support helplines like Carers UK can advise you. This resource can also help you fill out any important forms or tell you how to balance full-time caring responsibilities effectively. In addition, the Carers Trust is an excellent resource for carers.
Your local healthcare provider can also offer any support or guidance regarding your loved one’s specific health condition.
Is there any mental health support available for me?
As a carer, you carry a lot of responsibility, which can impact your emotional and mental health. There are a few ways to improve your mental health, such as:
- Practising mindfulness.
- Eating a balanced diet.
- Exercising regularly.
- Connecting with friends and family.
- Engaging in hobbies.
Going to support groups may also help your mental health, as you can find other people who understand what you’re dealing with day to day. Being a carer is a great act of love and kindness, but remember to consider your own needs, too. It can be easy to become isolated, so ensure that you have a good support network around you.
Becoming a full-time carer
Becoming a full-time carer is a rewarding but stressful role, whether you’re caring for your family member on a short-term or long-term basis. If you’re not looking after yourself, it can affect your ability to care for your loved one. So, it’s important to recognise when you need help or if you need to take time to get extra support for yourself.
By doing your research, finding financial support and looking after your physical and mental health, you can ensure that you’re providing the best care for your family.