Becoming a caregiver can be overwhelming. There is so much to do and learn that most new carers find the first few months pass by in a blur of appointments and form filling.

We understand how complicated the process can be. So seeing as it’s Carers’ Week, we’ve compiled five tips for unpaid carers, covering everything from paying for care to looking after your mental health.

1) Request a carer’s assessment

If you care for an aging parent, you’ve probably heard of a needs assessment, where your older parent is assessed by their local authority to evaluate how much support they need.

A carer’s assessment is similar but designed to gauge the needs of the carer. During the assessment, a social worker will ask you questions about your life to find out what they can do to help you support your family member.

Before attending your carer’s assessment, it’s worth thinking about how providing care affects your life. This includes how it impacts your physical and mental health, your relationships and your ability to hold down a job. You will also need to bring:

  • personal information like your NHS number and your GP’s name and address
  • your contact details and the contact details of anyone attending the assessment, such as a friend or professional advocate.
  • the personal details of the person you care for

2) Check your eligibility for Carer’s Allowance

Carer’s Allowance is the primary state benefit for unpaid carers. For the tax year 2021/2022, it was worth £67.60 per week and entitled the applicant to receive National Insurance credits if they were under pension age.

You may be eligible for Carer’s Allowance if you are over 16 and spend at least 35 hours a week caring for someone else. The support you offer doesn’t have to be physical either. Emotional support, such as keeping someone company, is also recognised.

If you are worried about paying for care or supporting yourself, speak to a charity like Turn2us. They offer free and impartial advice to people who are struggling financially and can help you apply for state benefits as well as local authority and NHS funding. Use their benefit calculator to work out your entitlement and put together a financial plan for the year ahead.

Young woman with her grandmother on a bench

3) Talk to your GP

When you become an adult carer, let your GP know so they can offer you more support. As a carer, you are entitled to free flu vaccinations and your practice will be more flexible with appointment times. With the consent of your loved one, your practice will also be allowed to share information with you about your parent’s health.

Remember that carers can fall ill themselves and the responsibilities of caregiving can take a toll on your physical and mental wellbeing. Speaking to your doctor and taking advantage of the free health checks carers are entitled to will help you look after your health and provide dependable long-term care.

4) Speak to your employer about flexible working

As an employee, you are entitled to ask your employer for flexible working after six months of continuous employment.

Employment law in the UK allows employees to apply for flexible working once a year; although some employers, particularly those that are more sympathetic to the needs of their employees, will allow you to submit another application if your circumstances change.

Flexible working takes many forms. Most of the time it includes arrangements like part-time work and job sharing, but it can also include flexitime, working from home and working compressed hours.

Whatever your options, it’s worth considering a trial period. Trial periods give you and your employer the chance to review how any changes to your employment will work without either of you committing to a permanent change to your contract.

5) Take breaks when you can

When you become a full-time carer, finding the time to do the things you enjoy can be hard. Having someone who depends on you day in, day out can make it difficult to relax, clear your mind and remember what it was like to focus on you.

Respite care is an excellent option for those who need to take a short break from being a carer. It gives unpaid carers temporary relief from looking after their relative and usually involves either live-in care, care at home (domiciliary care) or nursing home care.

Your council will provide respite care as a care option if your carer’s assessment or your loved one’s needs assessment indicates you need it. Be aware that you can only take a specified amount of time away from caring for your parent before your benefits are affected.