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Carers: What Leave and Benefits Can You Get?

Annie 10th Apr 2024 No Comments

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Did you know that there are at least 2.5 million unpaid carers in the UK? Around one in five adults has some caring responsibility for a dependant – a child, partner, sibling, other relative or friend – that takes up at least some of their time each week. And the Carer’s Leave Act now means you’re entitled to time off work for it.

The Carer’s Leave Act

Who is Eligible for Carer’s Leave?

How Does Carer’s Leave Work?

Working Out Carer’s Leave Entitlement

How is Carer’s Leave Different to Emergency Leave?

Is Parental Leave Part of Carer’s Leave?

Other Benefits for Carers


The Carer’s Leave Act

Passed in 2023 but officially in force from 6th April 2024, the Carers Leave Act entitles anyone with a caring responsibility for a dependant to take unpaid leave for care duties. This might include taking them to hospital appointments or providing care cover for short care staffing, or visiting residential care to find somewhere for them to live longer term.

Some companies already have carers leave as part of their policies, which means you might be able to be paid for care-related duties. But, if your employer does not allow time off for care activities unless you use up your annual leave allowance, you’re now legally entitled to unpaid care leave that doesn’t take away from your paid holiday allowance.

Who is Eligible for Carer’s Leave?

The definition of eligibility is quite broad. The person you care for can be a partner, spouse, sibling, child, other relative, or unrelated to you. You might care for them many hours regularly each week or on an ad-hoc basis when you’re needed.

Carers leave is for any salaried employee – unfortunately, like other holiday allowances, self-employed and freelance workers don’t get the benefit (although, of course, if they take a day unpaid off work for care duties it’s just the same!).

It is important to note that, when applying for carer’s leave, you do not have to reveal the illness or disability of the dependent you care for to your employer – nor do you need to be a blood relative or spouse to be considered a carer (so it could be for a friend, too).

How Does Carer’s Leave Work?

You’re allowed to apply for Carers leave from the day you start a job – there is no minimum time you have to work before applying.

It is an unpaid leave, so before you apply for it check your contract and company handbook in case your employer offers paid leave for carers outside of their holiday entitlement. You must apply for the leave – it’s not an emergency leave.

If you are asking for a half day or single full day, you need to apply at least three days before you need to take it. For anything above a single day, you must request the leave at least double the length of time for the leave. For example, if you need two days you need to apply four days before, if you need three days it would be six days before.

Working Out Your Carer’s Leave Entitlement

Carer’s leave entitlement is based upon how many days you work in the week. You can take up to one week of leave per calendar year, from the date of the first request. You don’t have to take all of the days at once, so it could be up to ten half days across the year if you work full-time.

If you work five days a week, you will be entitled to the full working week’s allowance. If you work part-time, say three days a week, it would be three days a year entitlement. For people who work irregular hours, they can work out their leave by adding up the total hours worked in the last 12 months and dividing by 52 to get the equivalent week’s allowance. If you started your job less than twelve months ago, divide your total hours by the total number of weeks worked to date.

An employer cannot legally refuse carer’s leave – but they may delay it, if they have reason to believe your absence could cause significant business disruption. If this happens, they must give you a date within one month of the leave date requested, and they have to write to you at least seven days of the original request.

Your employer also can’t change their mind after granting carer’s leave after seven days from the date you requested it. So, if they say yes to it on Monday and change their mind on Thursday, they’re within their rights to do so as it is less than seven days. But if you requested it on the 1st of the month and they decide to refuse on the 10th, that’s not permitted as it is over seven days from the request.

How is Carer’s Leave Different to Emergency Leave?

Carer’s leave is for planned events, such as hospital appointments or if the dependant’s usual care staff are taking their own annual holiday and need cover.

Other types of leave you can apply for might be emergency leave. This is unplanned and often unpaid leave, given at your employer’s discretion (but cannot be reasonably refused). It might be, for example, if your child is unwell and cannot go to school that day. Or, compassionate leave is a type of emergency leave, so if someone close to you dies you can request time off that isn’t taken from your annual holiday allowance.

Check your employer’s policies regarding emergency leave before taking it unpaid, as some companies may offer paid emergency leave. There may also be alternatives to unpaid leave for carers if, for example, they will only need to leave work a couple of hours early to take their dependant to an appointment (such as working from home or making up the hours another day).

Is Parental Leave Part of Carer’s Leave?

Parental leave is another kind of unpaid leave that is not emergency leave or carer’s leave. Parents are entitled to a total of 18 weeks’ unpaid leave per child up to their 18th birthday, with a maximum of four weeks per year. This leave allowance rolls between jobs too, so if you take five weeks in one job and then change jobs, you would still have thirteen weeks left in your allowance.

Parental leave is for spending time with your child for their wellbeing. It might be to visit new schools or a new area if you are moving, spend time with visiting family who usually live far away.

Other Benefits for Carers

Taking unpaid leave for care isn’t ideal – but it does mean you still have your full annual holiday entitlement for paid leave, which you can use for more care duties or for your own self-care.

You might be able to top up your income as a carer with benefits. Carers Allowance is for those who care for someone for more than 35 hours per week. It is £81.90 per week and includes National Insurance credits – but be aware that it can affect entitlement to other benefits that you AND the person you care for get. You’ll pay tax on it too, if your income including the allowance is over the personal annual allowance (which is currently £12,750).

Carer’s Credit is for those who care for a dependant for 20 hours a week or more and tops up National Insurance credits for them.

If you’re on a low income because you can only work part-time due to your caring duties, you could be eligible for other benefits like Universal Credit and Council Tax benefit.

Knowing which benefits you could be entitled to is always confusing, as getting some might mean you’re not eligible for others. Check an online calculator like EntitledTo to make sure you’re not missing out on benefits you can claim.

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Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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