When you're trying to look after a home, maintain your own health, watch the pennies, and care for someone, every little bit of help can make a big difference. 

That's why Carers Trust warmly welcomed the new Care Act, introduced in 2015, that gave every single unpaid carer in the country the right to have their needs for support assessed.

But, we've been concerned to hear that a number of councils have decided to charge carers for the support they give them.

The message of the Care Act was clear: we must value and protect unpaid carers and make sure they have access to the essential support services they need.

Purpose of our report

We are worried that spirit is being undermined by the decision of councils to charge carers for support – making the help they are required to offer into a luxury instead of an essential service.

We wanted to establish exactly how many councils are using charges, how are they are being applied, and the impact they are having on carers.

Download the full report A Charge on Caring.

What we did

We sent a Freedom of Information request to all councils in England with responsibility for social care asking them whether or not they are currently charging carers for support or are considering introducing charges in the next year.

We also spoke to carers subject to the charges to find out how they are affecting them.

Our findings

  • 8 councils who responded to our FOI request (5%) of total are now charging carers for support.
  • 23 councils who replied (15% of those who have responsibility for social care) will be debating the introduction of charges in the next 12 months.
  • ADASS has strongly recommended that councils do not charges carers, arguing that to do so is a false economy.
  • Councils are expected to face a £4.3bn gap in social care funding by 2020.
  • Unless action is taken by central government to plug the gap in funding in social care, we expect the number of councils charging carers for support to increase.

Our argument

In our report we make the case for why we believe your council should reconsider its position on charges. Our main arguments are:

  • It is wrong in principle: Carers provide support, unpaid, which would otherwise need to be provided by others, potentially from public funds. The role and importance of unpaid carers needs to be celebrated and they should be given more, not less support.
  • Charging risks discouraging carers from accessing the support they need: Our social care system relies on the UK’s 7 million unpaid carers. If they are put off applying for the support they need to continue caring, they are more likely to become physically or mentally unwell, or less able to continue caring in the long term. People in need will then depend on our over-stretched health and social care services. 
  • Charging puts carers at financial risk: Carers are more likely than average to face financial difficulties. Expecting them to pay for essential support services will increase those pressures.
  • Charging is not cost effective: Although charging could have a big impact on each individual carer, the cost to the council of administering a charge is likely to exceed the amount awarded to the carer.  

Our recommendations

  • Any council currently charging carers for support should reverse that policy and ensure that support services provided for carers under the Care Act are offered free of charge.
  • Councils considering introducing charges must fully investigate the likely impact on carers and their local social care system. Any evidence that there will be a detrimental impact on either of these should be taken as a sign that charges should not be introduced.
  • Councils that are debating the introduction of charges should ensure that this decision is put out to public consultation and that they seek opinion from carers and care providers.
  • The United Kingdom government should make it mandatory for councils to record data on the number of carers being charged for support and the amount that they are being charged.
  • The Department of Health should conduct a study in April 2016, one year after the introduction of the Care Act, on the impact that charges are having on carers.
  • The United Kingdom government must increase the overall level of funding provided to councils for social care.
  • Download the full report A Charge on Caring