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Taking a break

This section provides information on how to organise a break, the types of care that may be available, and help with meeting the cost of care.

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. Caring for somebody can be a full time job – so breaks are vital to your own well-being and quality of life.

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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Getting alternative care so you can take a break

There are different options for getting support for the person you are looking after while you are away which include:

Social services

Your local council 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 an assessment of your needs carried out.

Finding care yourself

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

  • employing a paid care worker 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

There are a range of organisations which provide information and/or services which will help you to make private arrangements. A list of these is provided at the end of the Taking a Break factsheet, which will be available shortly.

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 be that friends or family visit the person being looked after 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 extened 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 provide information to help you to decide what alternative care services to use. Your local council or carers’ centre should have information about local charities and organisations.

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Help through social services to get a break

Social services 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.

Arranging respite care

Carer’s assessment

If you are an adult and are looking after another adult you have a legal right to a carer's assessment if you appear to have a need for support. You should be offered a carer's assessment from the local council of the person you are looking after. However if you are not offered one you can request one.

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 (such as a Carer Emergency Scheme)

During your carer’s assessment the local council will work out whether you meet the national eligibility criteria. You will meet the eligibility criteria if there is likely to be a significant impact on your wellbeing as a result of you caring for another person.

 If you have eligible needs, then providing you want them to, the local council has a legal obligation to meet these needs. Therefore if taking a break is an eligible need, the local council will have to meet this need.

It may be agreed that the best way to help you as a carer is by providing services directly to you, by providing services to the person you are looking after, or a combination of both.

For this purpose it is likely that the local council would meet this need by providing services to the person you are looking after. In order to establish what alternative care (called respite care) the person you are looking after would need, the local council would carry out a needs assessment.

Needs assessment

Following your carer’s assessment, the person you are looking after will then need to be assessed (called a needs assessment) 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 which means that they will be financially assessed to determine whether (and if so how much) they would need to contribute towards the cost of this.

Children Act Assessment

If you are caring for a child you should ask for an assessment for the whole family under the Children Act 1989. This assessment should look at your need for breaks and the respite care needs of the child you are looking after.

If you are the parent of the child you can also request a separate parent carers needs assessment if you feel your needs have not been addressed in the Children Act assessment.

The assessment will consider the health and social care needs of the child that you are looking after, and what community care services are required to meet those needs.

Note: If you have already had any of these assessments, but you need more support, ask the local council to carry out a reassessment.

We have more information about assessments in our assessments factsheet.

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.
  • Vouchers – some local council's provide vouchers which can be exchanged for services, such as those offered by care agencies, or residential homes.
  • Direct payments – cash payments from the local council. A person in ill health or with a disability can be paid a direct payment following a needs assessment so that they can arrange and pay for their own care and support services instead of receiving them directly from the local council. 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 local council of the person you are looking after may charge them for any respite care services provided. They may also charge you for any carer’s services they provide to you. If they do charge, they must follow guidelines about how income and capital is taken into account – you should be told about this when the assessments are carried out. You can find out more about charging for community care here.

Note: There are different rules about financial assessments for services arranged through a Children Act Assessment. To find out more about this, you can get in touch with Contact a Family who are a charity that supports families with disabled children.

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Finding care yourself

You or the person you are caring for may decide to recruit a paid care worker or to use an agency.

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.
  • 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.

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 Care Quality Commission (CQC) has an online directory of registered independent care services to help you decide which service to use. Their contact details are at the end of our Taking a Break factsheet, which will be available shortly.

In addition, a list of organisations who provide holidays, and information about holidays for people with disabilities, is provided at the end of our Taking a Break factsheet, which will be available shortly.

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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 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. This specialist help can include visits from a district nurse or from a community psychiatric nurse. There is no charge for this health care, but each health authority decides what care it provides.
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Funding the break

You may be able to get help with the cost of going on holiday, either alone or with the person you are looking after, from a charity or benevolent fund (see the list of organisations at the end of our Taking a Break factsheet, which will be available shortly). If you have had a carer’s assessment for yourself then you may also be able to get financial help from your local council towards paying for a break.

Your local council or local carers centre  should be able to provide you with more information on local benevolent funds and other possible sources of funding.

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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.

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.

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

Taking a break

You can have up to a total of four 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 eight weeks of a stay in hospital (for either you or the person you are looking after) 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 compont of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), either rate of the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), or Attendance Allowance (AA) 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 weeks 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 person you are looking after) 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 compont of DLA, either rate of the daily living component of PIP, or AA or Constant Attendance Allowance for that period.

In practice, if you are looking after an adult, you will only be able to get Carer's Allowance for up to 28 days if it is the person you are looking after who is in hospital. This is because to get Carer's Allowance the person you are looking after must continue to receive DLA, PIP, AA or Constant Attendance Allowance, and this will stop after 28 days in hospital. If you are looking after a child under 16 their DLA will stop after 12 weeks in hospital.

Stays in hospital that are separated by 28 days or less are added together when deciding whether DLA/PIP/AA should stop.

Going into residential care

The DLA care component, the PIP daily living component and AA will stop after 28 days in resiedntial care if the local council have arranged the placement and are helpling with the cost. Stays in residential care that are seperated by 28 days or less are added togehter when deciding whether DLA/PIP/AA should stop.

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

Other benefits can also be affected by breaks in care or stays in hospital or residential care – seek advice about this from the Carers UK Adviceline.

Going abroad

DLA, PIP and AA can 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.
  • For up to four weeks in any other circumstances.

If you are going abroad to another country in Europe, special rules may apply which may mean that DLA, PIP, AA and Carer's Allowance can continue to be paid for longer.

Income Support and/or Pension Credit  can continue to be paid for up to four or eight 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 the Carers UK Adviceline.

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 contact the Carers UK Adviceline for a complete benefits check.

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