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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. It may be that you can keep going if you just have a few hours to yourself on a regular basis, or you may need to get away on holiday for a week.

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 by a social worker.

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.

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 that friends or family visit the person being cared for 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

As a carer you have certain legal rights. If you are providing substantial and regular care to someone then you have a right to a carer’s assessment. You need to ask the local council of the person you are looking after to undertake your carer’s assessment. They must consider:

  • whether you wish to work or take part in training
  • your own health and wellbeing
  • your right to have a reasonable amount of leisure time to yourself

If you need to take a break from caring for any of these reasons then respite care for the person you are looking after should be considered. If you have already had a carer’s assessment, then respite care for the person you are looking after should be considered.

Community Care Assessment

Following your carer’s assessment, the person you are looking after will then need to be assessed for the alternative care that they will need to allow you to take a break (called a community care assessment). Respite care is provided as a service to the person you are looking after. This is important because it means that once the person you are looking after has been assessed as needing the respite care, the local council is legally obliged to provide services to meet the need.

Child 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.

The social worker carrying out the assessments will consider the health and social care needs of the person 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.

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 care for.
  • Vouchers – some local authorities 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 community care 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.

Note: Following a carer’s assessment your local council may agree to make direct payments to you. You could, for instance, ask them to consider making direct payments to you to help cover the costs of a holiday. This would be a separate payment from any direct payments made to the person you care for so that they can have respite care.

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 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 Child 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.

We have more information about assessments on our website.

Find out more

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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 home care services to help you decide which service to use. Their contact details are at the end of this factsheet.

In addition, a list of organisations who provide holidays, and information about holidays for people with disabilities, is provided at the end of this factsheet

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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 our list of organisations). If you have had a carer’s assessment for yourself and an assessment for the person you are looking after then you may also be able to get financial help from your local council towards paying for a break.

Your social worker 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

If you plan to take a break you will need to consider if it will affect your benefits. Sometimes Carer's Allowance, disability benefits and other benefits are affected if you take a break, or if 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 four weeks break in any 26 week period and be paid Carer’s Allowance during these breaks. You must have been providing 35 hours or more of care a week for at least 22 of the past 26 weeks. The person you have been looking after must have been in receipt of a qualifying disability benefit – visit our Carer's Allowance page for more information.

Going into hospital

If you or the person you care for has to go into hospital you can still receive Carer’s Allowance if you have been providing 35 hours or more of care a week for at least 14 of the past 26 weeks. The person you have been looking after must have been in receipt of a qualifying disability benefit (see factsheet on Carer’s Allowance for more details).

You can continue to get Carer’s Allowance for up to 12 weeks in any 26 week period, depending on whether you have also had breaks from caring for other reasons. To continue to receive Carer’s Allowance for up to 12 weeks the person you care for must continue to receive a qualifying disability benefit – visit our Carer's Allowance page for more information.

If you are looking after an adult, their Disability Allowance (DLA), Attendance Allowance or Personal Independence Payment (PIP) will stop after they have been in hospital for 28 days. If you are looking after a child under 16 their DLA will stop after 12 weeks in hospital. If two stays in hospital or residential care are separated by 28 days or less, they are added together when deciding whether DLA/AA/PIP should stop.

In practice, if you are caring for an adult, you will only be able to receive Carer’s Allowance for 28 days if it is the person you are caring for who is in hospital.

Going into residential care

Attendance Allowance (AA), the care component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) stop after 28 days if the person you look after is in temporary or permanent residential care funded by the Local Authority or NHS Trust (unless the only contribution from the NHS is an amount called the Registered Nursing Care Contribution). This applies regardless of their age. The mobility component of DLA and PIP is still paid.  If two stays in residential care or hospital are separated by 28 days or less, they are added together when deciding whether DLA/AA/PIP should stop.

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

Going abroad

DLA, AA and PIP 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 either:

  • 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, AA, PIP and CA 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. 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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Reporting a change in caring

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/AA/PIP Unit know about any time spent in hospital or a care home.

Other benefits can all be affected by a stay in residential or hospital care – seek advice about this from the Carers UK Adviceline.

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