My dentist recently wrote to me advising I had not booked an appointment for some time. I then could not tell my mortgage provider who my building and contents insurer was, because I couldn’t find the policy document.
I am rather disorganised. Which is why I was attracted to Helen’s business proposal in the final programme of The Apprentice last Sunday. Her business would offer concierge /secretary type services for people – such as organising dentist appointments and storing information of who your insurer is.
This would be a dream for me, but can you imagine how helpful this would be for carers who can be responsible for all of the affairs of the person they are caring for, on top of everything else they are dealing with?
Carers are often lost amidst a myriad of social care, health and welfare systems as they try to figure out how best to get support for the person they care for. It is no surprise that something might slip through the net.
For some carers, what slipped was that some years after first receiving Carer’s Allowance, they did not tell the Carer’s Allowance Unit that they had begun to earn over £100 p/w which means they are no longer eligible for Carer’s Allowance.
In a recent discussion on our website forums, 16 carers advised that they were prosecuted by the Department of Work and Pensions for this error. Some of them had disclosed the income to the Tax Credits office but had not realised that they also had to tell the Carer’s Allowance Unit.
My dentist understood and found time for me; my mortgage provider laughed and said my insurance broker could tell me. The DWP took carers to court. In all of these cases, carers said they admitted their mistake and had offered or even started repayments yet DWP still pressed prosecution.
The effects were carers lived for months in fear of jail and what would happen to the person they were caring for. And fearing the loss of their jobs working in schools or with vulnerable adults. Or wondering where they could find the money to pay for a lawyer. One carer is now so scared that she refuses to claim Carer’s Allowance even though she is eligible, in case she makes another mistake and goes through the nightmare again.
All carers who went to court were found not guilty, and others had their cases dropped by the DWP but only after many months of fear. However, two carers are still being taken to court despite admitting their mistakes and starting repayments.
What has happened to these carers over the past year is horrifying. The lack of understanding shown is astounding and deeply saddening. It’s a shame when your own Government shows a fraction of the understanding that dentists and banks show.
If you care for somebody for more than 35 hours p/w and that person receives the mid/high rate care component of Disability Living Allowance, then you can get the Carer’s Allowance of £53.90 p/w. However, you don’t get it if you receive another higher benefit such as Income Support or State Pension, or are in education or training for more than 20 hours p/w.
Considering this, it’s no surprise that many carers strongly believe that Carer’s Allowance is not enough and too many carers can’t get it.
The Government wants to merge numerous benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance into one single benefit called Universal Credit to simplify the system. However, there are two reasons why carers opposed moving Carer’s Allowance into Universal Credit.
The recognition that receiving a benefit specific to carers is important to them. It shows that the Government understands that they are not like other people receiving benefits – they are actually having to make a valuable contribution to qualify for that benefit. They want to know that the Government appreciates this.
Also Universal Credit will be a means tested benefit that will take into account savings and earnings of others in the household. Carer’s Allowance is not means tested. A change would have meant that carers could still be caring for more than 35 hours p/w but would have received a Universal Credit amount even lower than £53.90 because of savings they may have (which may be needed to pay for care).
The Government has an understandable aim of targeting benefits at those with most financial need, but withdrawing Carer’s Allowance from some would only make carers feel even more unappreciated and taken advantage of. The health and social care system is terrible at recognising carers and for many carers Carer’s Allowance is the only recognition they receive for what they do.
Taking Carer’s Allowance away from those who give so much would have been simply wrong. This is the message we gave Government. We are glad they listened.