Carers already have some statutory rights in the UK and more and more employers are realising the benefits of supporting carers in the workplace and offering help in various ways.

Caring and working together can be challenging and it is important to know you have some statutory rights that protect and enable you to cope with your caring roles. There may be existing support already in your workplace that you are not aware of, or you may find that your employer is open to exploring new ways to provide support. Knowing your rights gives you the confidence to talk with your employer.


4.1. Introduction

Unpaid carers make a valuable contribution to the UK economy and the daily lives of millions of people who couldn’t cope without their support.

With an aging population, the number of unpaid carers is expected to grow from 6.5 million to an estimated 9 million and more and more employees will have to combine work with caring. Working carers are more likely to need support at work, often different levels of support at different times: from minor changes such as providing access to a telephone to check on the person they care for, to responding to applications from staff for flexible working.

If a carer wants to enter to work or continue working, it is the employer’s best interest to consider making reasonable changes to the employee's work pattern.

Employers, if they want their business are to continue to grow need to know what they must do to meet their obligation to employees, have a good understanding of the role of unpaid carers and the law that specifically relates to unpaid carers.

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4.2. Key Pieces of Legislation in Relation to Carers

The importance and recognition of the role of carers have been acknowledged and advanced through a range of legislation over the last few decades.

One of the most important principles of new and relevant social care legislation is that the assessment and support provided should be person-centered. This means that service providers must consult carers in the planning and should focus on the things the person wants (outcomes).

The Care Act 2014 replaced most previous laws (including the Carers Equal Opportunities Act 2004) regarding carers and people being cared for. The Act significantly reforms the way social care needs are assessed, met, and paid for, and how social services are provided. In terms of carers, it helps to improve people’s independence and wellbeing and outlines the way that local authorities should carry out Carers’ Assessments to consider whether or not a carer wants to take part in work, education, training, or leisure activities. The local authority must inform carers of their right to have an assessment. The Care Act 2014 also makes many changes that may affect the cared-for and apply to England only.

The Children and Families Act 2014 gives all employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment the right to request flexible working. The rights of parent carers have also been addressed within the Act. The local authority has a duty to provide an assessment to a carer of a disabled child aged under 18 if it appears that the parent carer has needs, or the parent carer requests an assessment.

The Employment Relations Act 1999 gives employees the right to take ‘reasonable’ time off to deal with unexpected situations involving a dependant.

The Equality Act 2010 brings together anti-discrimination law acts and regulations and states that employers and employees have a responsibility to create and be part of a fair work environment that complies with the law. The Equality Act 2010 also introduced the concept of discrimination by association into UK legislation.

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4.3. Carer’s Rights at Work

In practice, legislation to protect carers at work usually falls into the categories below. Many carers access some or all of these rights, in order to make working life more sustainable.

Flexible Working
All employees who have 26 weeks or more service can make one flexible working request per year to their employer. Flexible working can mean reduced hours, flexitime, home working, job shares, compressed, or annualized hours to name a few. All employers have a duty to consider a request reasonably. This means your statutory right is a ‘right to request’ and not a right to be granted flexible working. However, your employer must seriously consider your application and can only reject it if there are good reasons for doing so. Some employers will have a formal procedure, but this is not statutory. You can find out more about flexible working in the ‘Flexible Working’ topic.

Time off
All employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with emergencies involving a dependant. A dependant is defined as someone who depends on an employee for care. There is no limit to the number of times an employee can take time off, however, whether this is unpaid or paid time off is at the employer’s discretion. Time off for dependants is for emergency use only, and not for pre-planned occurrences. Time off doesn’t have to be paid, however, your employer may agree to pay it or they may have a paid carer’s leave scheme.

The emergency situations could be:

  • You are providing assistance to the person you care, for falls ill, gives birth or injured or assaulted
  • You are making longer-term care arrangements
  • You need time off following the death of your dependant
  • A breakdown in the care arrangements
  • To deal with an unexpected incident at school that involves the employee’s child

Compassionate leave: Taking time off for a bereavement
Many employers have a policy for ‘compassionate bereavement leave’ – this can be paid or unpaid leave for emergency situations. Employees should check their employment contract or company handbook for details about compassionate leave.

Parental Leave
Under the regulation, all employees will qualify for this if they have worked for their employer for at least one year and have legal parental responsibility for a child under five, or a disabled child under 18 years of age. Parental leave is unpaid unless your contract says otherwise.

Employees can take up to 18 weeks’ leave for each child and adopted child, up until their 18th birthday. A maximum of four weeks can be taken in one year for each qualifying child.

Parental leave should be taken in blocks of a whole week or multiples of a week rather than individual days, unless your employer agrees otherwise or if the child is disabled. A ‘week’ equals the length of time an employee normally works over 7 days and employees must give 21 days’ notice before their intended start date.

Employees should always check their employment contract or staff handbook for the employer’s own parental leave scheme. For example, they may have extended parental leave to include other workers (i.e. foster carers, grandparents) or employees who have worked there less than a year or taken the leave-in shorter periods than a week.

Employees are entitled to return to the same job except where:

  • Parental leave is taken for a continuous period of more than 4 weeks
  • The period of leave is taken immediately following additional maternity leave

If in such cases, it is not reasonably practicable for the employee to return to the same job, the employee will be entitled to return to another job that is suitable and appropriate in the circumstances.

Protection from Discrimination

Under the Equality Act 2010, people who look after another person who is elderly or disabled are protected against direct discrimination or harassment. Carers are protected by law as they are classed as being ‘associated’ with someone who has special protection from discrimination. For instance, in the world of work, it would be direct discrimination not to give a job to the best applicant based on the fact he/she is a carer, or to deny an employee promotion because the employer feels the caring role could hinder his/her work.

Trade Unions

Trade unions can provide support and advice to working carers e.g. they are allowed to attend meetings with employers and help to negotiate flexible working arrangements.

A list of trade unions can be found at:

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4.4. Carer’s Assessment

The Care Act gives carers additional rights which means that local authorities must provide support to all carers. The Act acknowledges that caring comes in many forms and states that the local authority has a duty to carry out a Carer’s Assessment whether the carer has or may have needs for support, and if so what those needs are.

The assessment looks into the well-being of carers and how they can fulfill their own lives, in addition to their caring roles. This might be to continue working, or studying, or simply to be able to socialize with friends and family to stay healthy.

The Carer’s Assessment is delivered through local Adult Social Services and is your opportunity to discuss with your local council what support or services you need personally. They will look at how caring affects your life, including your physical, mental, and emotional needs, and focus on what you need to continue fully or partly with your caring role.

Different Local Authorities may use different terms to describe Carer’s Assessment these include sometimes known as a:

Different Local Authorities may use different terms to describe Carer’s Assessment these include sometimes known as a:

  • Carer’s Needs Assessment
  • Care Assessment
  • Care Needs Assessment
  • Community Care Assessment
  • Joint Needs Assessment
  • Shared Assessment
  • Single Shared Assessment
  • Carers Self-Assessment

The Carer’s Assessment (for the person providing unpaid care) differs from the Needs Assessment (for the person needing care). You can agree to have a combined or joint Needs Assessment, but having a separate Carer’s Assessment can be more beneficial, because this looks at what things could be done to make your role as a carer easier and what support is needed to enable you to stay healthy and have a life of your own.

TIPS: Things to think about when taking a Carer’s Assessment:

To get support from your local authority you have to meet certain eligibility criteria, to

  • What do you do for the person you look after?
  • Do you live with the person you care for?
  • Does caring affect the quality of your sleep?
  • Is your health affected (e.g. back problems) by your caring role?
  • Are you able to leave the person you care for?
  • Are you able to spend enough time on other family responsibilities?
  • Do you work and are worried about having to give your job up?
  • Do you have any quality time for yourself?
  • Do you need any training to support you in your caring role?
  • Would you like to get emotional support?

You may also want to mention how caring has affected your family life, work, or other activities and commitments. The assessment will also discuss what you would need to know in an emergency, as well as what support is available to help you get back into work, take part in leisure activities and improve your own health and wellbeing. The Carer’s Assessment only gathers information about the carer’s needs.

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4.5. Carer’s Assessment – Eligibility Criteria for Support

Following the assessment, the local authority must decide whether the carer is eligible for support.

The rules for deciding who is eligible for support, are set nationally, meaning that carers across the country, are treated the same.

You can find out here how will the local council consider whether any of the carers need to meet the criteria when they assess what help to give.

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4.6. How to Request a Carer’s Assessment?

If a carer hasn’t been informed and offered a Carer’s Assessment he/she should contact Adult Social Care Services and request an assessment.

Local authorities can, if they wish, arrange for other organizations to carry out assessments, therefore carers may find their local Carer Centre undertaking assessments on behalf of the council. There will be eligibility criteria for support, set nationally, meaning that carers across the country, are treated the same. Find out more about the eligibility in the ‘Eligibility Criteria for Support’ section.

 What happens next?

Once the assessment has been carried out social services should discuss with the carer what support or services the carer requires. If the outcome of the assessment is that services will be provided to help the carer, carers have the right to ask for Direct Payments instead of having the service arranged by social services. Direct Payments mean that carers are able to choose who provides the service they require rather than taking what social services have to offer. This gives carers more freedom of choice and the ability to manage their own finances more effectively.

Type of services that are available to carers or the person they care for could include:

  • Personal or practical care at home
  • Daycare services or activities
  • Adaptations and equipment in the home
  • Respite care
  • Direct payment to enable you to buy services
  • Patient transport service
  • Companion card
  • Benefits advice
  • Substitute care to enable you as a carer to have a break from your caring role
  • Short breaks, social activities
  • Adult learning, training
  • Help with particular tasks or equipment helping your caring role
  • Advice and support by your local Carer Centre
  • Emotional support

Help from Local Carer Centres

Completing a Carer’s Assessment may seem a difficult task but most of the local carer centres are happy to guide carers through the process and can offer a personal support service to make sure the assessment is an accurate reflection of the caring needs. Carers can ask one of the carer centres’ Support Workers to be present when they go through your Carer’s Assessment with social services, which can be done at the carer’s or care for’s home or at a time and place of their convenience.

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The ‘Visibility’ of Unpaid Care in England – Research Equality Act 2010 – Guide for Carers (Government Equality Office) Sharon Coleman v Attridge Law Firm – Case Study Eligibility Criteria for Support