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Taking a break

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

72% of carers have not had any breaks from their caring role during the pandemic. Only 14% feel confident that the support they receive with caring will continue into the future.

We are asking the government to invest £1.2 billion of additional funding for carers’ breaks to help with recovery as well as long-term support. Read more in our report. You may also like to see our guidance below on taking a break.


Caring means something different for everyone – but one thing that's true for every carer is that you cannot keep going without a break.

Whilst having a break is doubtlessly good for you, it also means that the person you're 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

The regular demands of caring can soon lead to feelings of exhaustion, so it's important to recognise when you need a break. There are lots of different options that can be explored. 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.

You might prefer to go on holiday with the person you're looking after or to go away alone – and a short break or holiday may not always involve going away. Some people enjoy a short break from caring that involves staying at home and the person they're looking after going on holiday. Take a look at our video series to hear the viewpoints of different carers.

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Arranging care cover

Arranging care yourself

You may decide to:

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

See our Taking a Break factsheet for more details and for a directory of organisations that may be able to help.

Support from friends and family

Friends or family members might be willing to look after the person you care for whilst you go on a short break or holiday.

It might be worth having a conversation to see if they would be willing to stay at your home to provide cover while you're away (if the person you care for lives with you). Alternatively, they might enjoy a change of scenery staying with friends or family.

Organisations that can help

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

Some can provide break services for carers or the person being looked after, and others can provide reliable information to help you to decide what alternative care services to use.

Your local council, local health and social care trust or carers’ centre should have details about local charities and organisations. See our Taking a Break factsheet for a directory of organisations that can help.

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Getting help through the social services / social work department

Social services or 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 often referred to as respite care.

To arrange respite care, you and the person you are looking after would need to have assessments from the social services or social work department.

These are different for you and the person you are looking after. See the relevant factsheet below for more details: 



Types of respite care

Respite care can be provided through:

  • residential or nursing care – where the person you are looking after has 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 short-term care

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

If you need to arrange short-term residential care for the person you care for, your local social services / social work department could help you decide which service to use, as well as the following organisations.

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 would like to arrange a holiday, there might be an organisation or charity that could help to arrange 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

To be able to relax and have peace of mind while on a break, you'll want to ensure the person you're looking after will be in safe hands and happy while you're away. Good planning in advance can make all the difference.

This checklist could help:

  • Provide all the necessary information for the person who is providing alternative care. This may be something as straightforward as what the person you care for likes to eat, and when their mealtimes are, to more complex information about any medication they need to take.
  • Leave a list of contacts. These should include the doctor’s number and other professionals involved in the care of the person you are looking after, contact details of nearby family members and friends, and your own number, in case of emergencies.
  • It's a good idea to have an emergency plan. Setting out what should be done in an emergency, make sure you go through the details of this with the people who will be providing alternative care.
  • If a residential care home or nursing homes is providing 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 and be reassured that the person you care for will be well looked after and content there.
  • If the person you care for needs specialist medical or nursing help while you’re away – you should arrange this well in advance 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 carers' centre should be able to let you know if there is anything locally available to help with the cost.

You could also 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 from caring, or if you or the person you are looking after goes into hospital or residential care. For more details see page 11 of our  Taking a Break factsheet.




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