Wider experiences of Carer's Allowance
Participants were asked about their previous experience of Carer's Allowance to provide context to their comments on the introduction of the supplement. This included questions about what it is like for them being a carer, the application process for Carer's Allowance, and the wider support they receive as a carer.
Participants raised a number of concerns relating to how Carer's Allowance is currently delivered by DWP.
Eligibility for Carer's Allowance
Participants felt there were issues around the eligibility criteria for Carer's Allowance, and that this has a knock on impact for the introduction of the supplement, which will only be paid to those already in receipt of Carer's Allowance.
In relation to paid work, some participants highlighted that the income thresholds were inflexible to accommodate things like seasonal work or lump-sum payments, and that the threshold was too low.
"Previously, when I worked, there was an earnings allowance and if you earned over a certain amount it wasn't worthwhile. It is also difficult to get work when you tell this (that you are a carer) to employers. Some of the rules are bizarre."
"The threshold of how much we, as carers, can work or earn is a big issue for me. I could work more hours and still be an excellent full time carer for my son, especially term time hours when he used to be at school and now college. I feel trapped in low income."
Some participants highlighted that the restrictions on full time study were preventing them from being able to access education, and that not all courses are available for part-time study. This prevented people from being able to prepare for a future after their caring responsibilities have changed. Many highlighted that they felt that they would still meet the 35 hour per week caring threshold if studying full time. For example, this included people who provided care in the evenings, overnight and at weekends.
"Being on Carer's Allowance is fairly restrictive as I would like to attend a full time college course to develop work skills as I have been "out of the loop" for some time. But under the current rules this is not possible."
"Being a university student does not make any difference to the level of care a carer can provide, so carers should not be excluded from trying to forward their education and increase their prospects."
Some participants felt it was unfair or unhelpful to limit applications for Carer's Allowance to caring for only one person. They highlighted concerns around having to "choose" which of their cared-for people they put on the form – this was not always a monetary concern, but rather that it was a point of getting "recognition". This was particularly difficult for parents who cared for more than one disabled child, and felt they have to choose between their children. Some suggested that the amount received for Carer's Allowance should be staggered depending on someone's caring responsibilities.
"At the moment when you claim you have to specify one person you are caring for – I can anticipate this will be a big problem for me shortly. I went for the youngest (child) as it would take the longest before things change."
A number of participants felt it was unfair that due to the income threshold, for many people Carer's Allowance stops when they receive their pension. Some participants felt it was important to distinguish pensions from other Government payments like benefits, as they felt that the pension system was one that people have paid into for many years. Some highlighted that they would have continued to work part time or take on voluntary work in their retirement, but due to their caring responsibilities they are unable to. The restrictions on the eligibility criteria at pension age means that they are unable to supplement their pension income as they may have planned to.
"I was going to take a job or volunteer on retirement – it would have been useful to get extra money so job would have been my first choice. As a carer I can't get anything extra, I'm stuck with what I've got.
There was a concern that carers who do not receive Carer's Allowance for these reasons could be further disadvantaged by the introduction of the supplement.
The application process
Many respondents felt that the application for Carer's Allowances is quite straight forward.
"The application was pretty straightforward. PIP is more awkward. I had to get registered as appointee to fill in the forms on granddaughter's behalf. But I found it quite straightforward – I appreciate that's unusual."
Some felt there should be more choice about how to apply – for example being able to apply online would be easier for some people. Others spoke about having to go into a Jobcentre to apply for Carer's Allowance and finding it difficult to discuss very personal issues in such a public setting.
Some participants highlighted that people complete the application at a time that may already be stressful and upsetting. A number of participants said that the eligibility criteria are quite unclear regarding other income and it can be difficult to know whether it is worth applying or not.
Some respondents also highlighted that the eligibility for Carer's Allowance is reliant on the qualifying benefit of the person they care for. This means that if the qualifying benefit is reduced or withdrawn, the eligibility for Carer's Allowance will also be affected, which can be a double blow to the household income.
If DLA is stopped and you have to reapply, if that is delayed or there is a hiccup, that would mean my Carer's Allowance and Income Support would both stop.
Others said that the application was made more complicated when applying for other support at the same time and that this can lead to errors in payment amounts.
"I was successful with my application however there was confusion around if I should claim ESA or Income Support"
"The application was fairly simple, but I was getting Income Support as well – Income Support was quicker, Carer's Allowance took longer to arrive. I wasn't sure where I was in the application process at the time. Between applying for the two I wasn't sure what was what. They start paying one, and when the other one kicks in you adjust it… they calculated it wrong, and they owed me an amount of money – that took a while to get resolved. The two are so linked – one affects the other. You know there will be an impact on the other when one goes up.