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19,000 young adult carers could be missing out on vital support during studies because of Carer’s Allowance rule

Up to 19,370 young adult carers are missing out on vital financial support because of a rule that forces them to choose between caring and their education, charity Carers Trust has warned.

The so-called “21-hour rule” prevents people from claiming Carer’s Allowance if they study for 21 hours or more a week, even when they meet all the benefit’s other criteria.

Carers Trust is calling for young adult carers to be exempt from the rule, arguing it shuts down the opportunity for 16 to 24-year-old carers to study “gold standard” qualifications like A Levels and T Levels, alongside the planned Advanced British Standard.

Because Carer’s Allowance is £81.90 a week, these young people could be missing out on more than £4,000 a year to support them and the person they care for while they study.

This could be a crucial sum of money for them, especially as many young adult carers are from low-income households or living in poverty.

Alongside a host of other strict eligibility criteria, Carer’s Allowance can only be claimed by those who care for at least 35 hours per week.

Analysis by Carers Trust shows there are 19,370 carers aged 16 to 24 in England and Wales who care for that amount of time a week but, because they’re in full-time education, would fall foul of the 21-hour rule.

This means they are locked out of receiving Carer’s Allowance, even if they and the person they look after meet the benefit’s other eligibility criteria.

Alek, 24, from Brixton, is a carer for his mum who, alongside other health conditions, has polymyositis, a rare degenerative condition. He studied Law & Business at the University of Portsmouth.

He said:

“I was incredibly disappointed to find out I wasn’t eligible for Carer’s Allowance after turning 16 just because I was in full-time education.

Trying to balance education with caring for mum hasn’t always been easy. The extra £4,000 or so a year could have made a huge difference to us.

Thankfully, I was still able to put myself through university but there are thousands of carers like me.

How many of them have been put off going after the job or qualification they want because of rules like this?”

There is widespread support for the rules to change. Earlier this year, more than 200 individuals and organisations signed an open letter calling for young adult carers to be exempt from the 21-hour rule.

The letter was organised by Carers Trust and Learning and Work Institute. Its signatories included chief executives of Barnardo’s and the Association of Colleges.

Andy McGowan, Policy and Practice Manager at Carers Trust, said: 

“Whoever forms the next Government could make an immediate difference to the lives of up to 19,000 young people by overhauling this grossly unfair rule.

Many are being forced to make an impossible choice between trying to do the right thing by those they care for and pursuing their dreams.

The struggle to balance caring with education is already huge for many, affecting everything from their exam results to mental health, to future job prospects.

Making them exempt from the 21-hour rule would be a vital step towards levelling the playing field.”

Nicola Aylward, Head of Learning for Young People at Learning and Work Institute, said:

"Young adult carers provide over £3.5 billion in unpaid care each year. Despite the contribution they make, they often face huge challenges in balancing caring commitments with their education.

The 21-hour rule in the benefits system limits young adult carers’ choices, often forcing them to choose between learning and claiming Carers Allowance.

This is an injustice that exacerbates the cost-of-living crisis for young adult carers and their families, and limits their right to an education.

Exempting young adult carers from the 21-hour rule should be a priority for the next government."

Figures show caring and the sacrifices it brings can have a disastrous effect on young people’s education opportunities. Nearly a quarter (24%) of young adult carers in school say they can’t afford to go to college or university.

Young adult carers are also 38% less likely to gain a degree than their peers. For those who care for 35 or more hours per week, the effect is even more stark, with 86% less likely to get a degree and 46% less likely to enter employment.


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