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Taking a break

Caring for someone can be a full-time job so breaks are vital to your own wellbeing and quality of life.

DOWNLOAD OUR TAKING A BREAK FACTSHEET


This information applies to people living in England, Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland.


6.5 million people in the UK are carers, looking after a parent, partner, child or friend. Caring means something different for everyone – but one thing that carers tell us all the time is that they cannot keep going without a break.

When was the last time you gave yourself a break? When did you last have an evening out, go for a swim, try something new, take a holiday? When did you last have a chance to do all the things you would like to do, but can’t do while you are caring – everyday things such as meeting up with friends, visiting family or simply catching up with some sleep?

Taking a break also means that the person you are looking after may be able to enjoy new experiences, have a change of scene and routine and mix with other people.


Different sorts of breaks

There are different ways in which you may take a break as a carer. Only you will know what type of break is best for you. You may need an hour each week, a day here and there, a week or two for a holiday, or a combination of all of these.

Think about the kind of break that you need as a carer and what kind of service the person you are looking after needs.

Some carers may choose to go on holiday with the person they are looking after or to go away alone – but a short break or holiday may not always involve going away. Some carers enjoy a short break from caring, which involves the person they are looking after going on holiday and the carer staying at home.

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What are the options for getting alternative care for the person you are looking after?

There are different options for getting alternative care for the person you are looking after while you are taking a break.

Getting help from the social services / social work department

  • England and Wales: your local council will have a social services department that can arrange services to help support you
  • Scotland: your local council will have a social work department that can arrange services to help support you
  • Northern Ireland: your local Health and Social Care Trust will have a social services department that can arrange services to help support you

In order to get these services, you and the person you are looking after will need to have your needs assessed.

See the section called 'Getting help through the social services / social work department' for further information.

Arranging care yourself

You may wish to make your own private arrangements such as:

  • employing a paid care worker (directly or through an agency) to care for the person you are looking after in their own home
  • paying for short-term residential care
  • arranging a holiday for the person you are looking after

See the section called 'Arranging care yourself' for further information, and our Taking a Break factsheet for a directory of organisations that may be able to help.

Support from friends and family

Some carers may be able to ask friends or family members to take over caring for the person they are looking after in order to go on a short break or holiday.

Sometimes this may mean that friends or family visit the person being cared for to provide care while the carer is away. Alternatively, it may mean that the person being looked after goes to stay with friends or family for an extended period.

Organisations that can help

There are many useful organisations that can help you get a break.

They may provide break services for carers or the person being looked after, or provide information to help you to decide what alternative care services to use.

Your local council/trust or carers’ centre (or Carers NI if you are in Northern Ireland) should have information about local charities and organisations. See our Taking a Break factsheet for a directory of organisations that may be able to help.

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Getting help through the social services / social work department

Social services /social work departments can arrange alternative care for the person you are looking after so that you can take a break from caring. This is usually called respite care.

To get respite care you and the person you are looking after would need to get assessments from the social services / social work department.

There are different assessments for you and the person you are looking after. See below for some information on these assessments or see the relevant factsheet below for more detailed information on assessments.


For more information about assessments, see Carers UK's range of factsheets:

ENGLAND  WALES   SCOTLAND   NORTHERN IRELAND


Carer’s assessment

Most carers can request a carer’s assessment from the social services / social work department of the person they are looking after.

Your carer’s assessment should consider:

  • your caring role and how it affects your life and wellbeing
  • your health – physical, mental and emotional issues
  • your feelings and choices about caring
  • work, study, training, leisure
  • relationships, social activities and your goals
  • housing
  • planning for emergencies

If the social services / social work department decide they will offer you support following your carer’s assessment, it may be agreed that the best way to help you as a carer is by providing support directly to you, by providing services to the person you are looking after, or a combination of both.

Note: In England, carer’s assessments are only available to adults caring for adults - see below if you are looking after a child under 18.

Assessment for the person you are looking after (if they are an adult aged 18+)

Following your carer’s assessment, the person you are looking after will then need to be assessed for the alternative care (called respite care) that they will need to allow you to take a break.

Respite care is provided as a service to the person you are looking after.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland this means that the person you are looking after will be financially assessed to determine whether (and if so how much) they would need to contribute towards the cost of this.

In Scotland if the respite care is an outcome of the assessment for the person you are looking after (which is normally the case) then the person you are looking after will be financially assessed to determine whether (and if so how much) they would need to contribute towards the cost of this. However if the respite care is an outcome of a carer’s assessment (which the local council has the power to do) the local council cannot charge for the respite care.

Assessments if you are looking after a child under 18, or if you are a carer under 18

If you are caring for a child under 18 you should be able to get an assessment for the whole family.

If you don’t feel this assessment has taken your needs as a carer into account you can request a separate assessment for yourself.

If you are a carer under 18 you should be able to get an assessment for yourself as a young carer.

Note: If you have already had any of these assessments, but you need more support, ask the social services / social work department to carry out a reassessment.

Note: If the social services / social work department does not decide to provide help, or not enough help, then you can make a complaint about this – contact the Carers UK Adviceline for further information on making a complaint. You could also explore the other options for getting a break such as finding care yourself, using friends and family or trying to find an organisation which could help.

Types of respite care

Respite care can be provided through:

  • residential or nursing care – where the person you are looking after goes for a short stay in a residential or nursing home
  • day-sitting service – allows you a break to go shopping, meet up with friends or have time for yourself
  • night-sitting service – where someone will come into your home to allow you to have a proper night’s sleep
  • day care – where the person you are looking after goes to a day centre or takes part in activities away from home allowing you a break from caring
  • holidays – help and support for when you want to go on holiday by yourself or with the person you look after
  • direct payments – cash payments from the social services / social work department - a person with a disability or ill health can be paid a direct payment following an assessment so that they can arrange and pay for their own care and support services - they can therefore receive a direct payment to pay for the alternative care they will need while their carer takes a break - you can find out more about direct payments here

Paying for respite care

The social services / social work department of the person you are looking after may charge them for any respite care services provided (although not in Scotland if the respite care is arranged through a carer’s assessment).

They may also charge you for any carer’s services they provide to you (although carers cannot be charged for support in Scotland and it is not common practice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland).

If they do charge, they must follow guidelines about how income/ capital is taken into account – you should be told about this when the assessments are carried out.

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Arranging care yourself

You or the person you are looking after may decide to recruit a paid care worker or to use an agency. You might also decide to arrange a short stay in residential care or a holiday for the person you are looking after.

Recruiting help yourself

If you are thinking about employing a paid care worker directly, then it is important that you realise that you will be taking on the responsibilities of an employer. Some of the things you will need to do as an employer are: 

  • check out your employees references
  • pay statutory sick pay if an employee is ill as well as maternity, paternity and adoption pay
  • ensure that your employee’s tax and National Insurance are paid correctly
  • ensure that you comply with your auto enrolment pension duties
  • check that your employee has the right to work in the UK
  • take out insurance to cover any accidents an employee might have in your home

You should also be familiar with law on disciplinary and grievance procedures, redundancy procedures and health & safety requirements.

All of this may sound very complicated, but there is help available to guide you through and it is a good idea to get advice before you start.

Using an agency

Before you start approaching agencies, you should be clear about the kind of care you are looking for and when you need it. Check that they deal with private clients like yourself and that they are able to provide the kind of care that you need.

Although using an agency is usually more expensive than recruiting a paid care worker yourself, it can make managing care easier because the agency will:

  • take care of the paperwork (eg Disclose and Barring Service checks)
  • deal with an employee’s tax and National Insurance
  • check references
  • provide a back-up if an employee is ill or unsatisfactory
  • deal with auto enrolment pension duties

Short-term residential care or a holiday for the person you are looking after

If you are going to arrange short-term residential care the social services / social work department might be able to help you decide which service to use, and there are organisations which can also help you decide which service to use.

In England you can contact the Care Quality Commission. In Wales you can contact the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales. In Scotland you can contact the Care Inspectorate. In Northern Ireland you can contact the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority.

If you are going to arrange a holiday there might be an organisation or charity which could help to arrange and/or fund this. See our Taking a Break factsheet for a list of organisations and their contact details.

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Planning your break

Being a carer means that you have to think about the needs of the person you are looking after while you are away. Good planning will ensure you can relax and have peace of mind to make the most of your break.

This is our checklist to help you plan for your break.

  • Make sure that anyone who is providing alternative care has all the information they need to care for the person you are looking after. This may be something as straightforward as what they like to eat, and when their mealtimes are, to more complex information about the medicines they need to take.
  • It is important to leave a list of contacts. These should include the doctor’s number and the numbers of any other medical/social care professionals involved in the care of the person you are looking after, those of nearby family members and friends, and your own number, in case of emergencies.
  • If you have an emergency plan (which sets out what should be done in an emergency) then make sure you go through the details of this with the people who will be providing alternative care.
  • Residential care homes and nursing homes can provide you with short-term care for the person you look after. It is a good idea, if you can manage it, to visit the care or nursing home beforehand, so that you can see what it is like, make sure that you are happy with it and reassure yourself that it will be able to properly care for the person you look after.
  • If the person you care for needs specialist medical or nursing help while you’re away, you should arrange this through their GP.
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Help with the cost of a break

If you want to go on holiday, either alone or with the person you are looking after, there may be some help you could get towards the cost.

You could bring up the need for financial help during your carer’s assessment to see if there is any help the social services / social work department can give.

You could see if there are any local grants or schemes to help carers with the cost of a holiday. Your social services / social work department or a local carer’s centre should be able to let you know if there is anything locally which might help with the cost.

You could have a look through the list of organisations in our Taking a Break factsheet to see if any of these might be able to help with the cost.

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How a break might affect your benefits

Payment of benefits can sometimes be affected if you take a break or you or the person you are looking after goes into hospital or residential care.

Taking a break

You can have up to a total of 4 weeks break in any 26 week period and be paid Carer’s Allowance during these breaks. The breaks can be for any reason.

You must have been providing 35 hours or more of care a week for at least 22 of the past 26 weeks. Up to 8 weeks of a stay in hospital (for either you or the cared for) can be included in the 22 weeks.

The person you have been looking after must have been in receipt of the middle or higher rate of the care component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), either rate of the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), or Attendance Allowance or Constant Attendance Allowance for that period.

Going into hospital

You can continue to get Carer’s Allowance for up to 12 weeks in any 26 week period if you or the person you are looking after has to go into hospital. 12 weeks is the maximum, so if you have had breaks in caring for other reasons Carer’s Allowance may stop sooner.

You must have been providing 35 hours or more of care a week for at least 22 of the past 26 weeks. Up to 8 weeks of a stay in hospital (for either you or the cared for) can be included in the 22 weeks.

The person you have been looking after must have been in receipt of the middle or higher rate of the care component of DLA, either rate of the daily living component of PIP, or Attendance Allowance or Constant Attendance Allowance for that period.

In practice, if you are caring for an adult, you will only be able to get Carer’s Allowance for 28 days if it is the person you are caring for who is in hospital. This is because to get Carer’s Allowance the person you are looking after must continue to receive DLA, PIP, Attendance Allowance or Constant Attendance Allowance, and this will stop after 28 days.

If you are looking after a child under 16 their DLA will normally stop after 12 weeks in hospital, however if you are still providing care to a child under 16 it might be possible for their DLA to continue after the 12 weeks - contact the Carers UK Adviceline for further information.

Stays in hospital/residential care that are separated by 28 days or less are added together when deciding whether DLA, PIP or Attendance Allowance should stop.

Going into care

The DLA care component, the PIP daily living component, and Attendance Allowance will stop after 28 days in residential care if the social services / social work department have arranged the placement and help with the costs.

Stays in residential care/hospital that are separated by 28 days or less are added together when deciding whether DLA, PIP or Attendance Allowance should stop.

Your Carer’s Allowance will stop once the DLA, PIP, or Attendance Allowance of the person you are looking after stops. However, if you have also had breaks from caring for other reasons your Carer’s Allowance may stop sooner.

Always let the Carer’s Allowance Unit know if you take a break or you or the person you are looking after go into hospital or residential care.

If your Carer’s Allowance stops due to a break in care there might be ways you can protect your National Insurance contribution record during the beak. For more information contact the Carers UK Adviceline.

You should also let the DLA / PIP / Attendance Allowance Unit know about any time spent in hospital or a care home.

Other benefits can also be affected by a stay in residential or hospital care. For more information contact the Carers UK Adviceline.

Going abroad

DLA, PIP and Attendance Allowance can sometimes continue for up to 26 weeks of a temporary stay abroad. You can continue to get Carer’s Allowance whilst you are abroad if you meet any of the following conditions:

  • You go abroad with the person you look after, and s/he continues to receive their qualifying disability benefit, and the purpose of your trip is to look after them. In this case, Carer’s Allowance can be paid for up to 26 weeks.
  • In any other circumstances, Carer’s Allowance can be paid for up to 4 weeks.

Income Support/Pension Credit can continue to be paid for up to 4 or 8 weeks if you go abroad for on a temporary basis. To check this and eligibility for other benefits when you go abroad, seek advice from your local advice centre or Carers UK’s Adviceline.

Getting a benefit check

You may be entitled to benefits that you are not claiming and which might help to pay for extra care. Ask your local advice centre or Carers UK’s Adviceline to do a complete benefits check for you.

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