“You can’t count as a carer if…”

 …your relative is already

  • in a care home,
  • in supported living,
  • in hospital
  • or entitled to Continuing Health Care
  • or s117 Mental Health Act aftercare

One of the major new things about the Care Act, was that it changed the notion of what you have to do in order to count as a carer.

It didn’t change the definition for Carer’s Allowance, please note, because that is a benefit, not part of the social care system.

What it did change, forever, was the idea that it was up to the council whether or not you were doing ‘enough’ to deserve to be assessed, or whether you were saving it enough money by virtue of your impact, to get a Carer’s grant (a set sum of money, per year) or a carer’s direct payment for meeting your own needs. Those responses, if the council thought you were deserving, were entirely discretionary – which means, in English, that if there was no money, you would need to cross your fingers or shout very very loudly.

This was because the definition of being a carer, under the old law, was about ‘regular and substantial care’, and woolly language like that does mean that councils had a lot of leeway, when they were short of money.

The old law gave rise, too, to a notion that ‘care’ to count, had to be something that was meeting eligible needs, above the old local Fair Access to Care Services threshold, and that what family members did, in one shared household, or by way of company, sorting out paperwork, running one’s loved one around all the time, etc. was not care. It was regarded as ‘natural support’ or TLC, for want of a more specific description, so that however much of it one might have been doing, it didn’t really count towards the threshold for providing regular and substantial support.

So, in came the Care Act in 2015.

It removed any reference to regular and substantial care being part and parcel of any rights specifically provided to ‘carers’.

It made it a legal provision that care includes ‘practical or emotional support’ in s10, so it can’t be said not to count, any longer

It gave carers, rights to be involved in loved ones’ assessments and care planning processes (although it didn’t define ‘involved’!)

It gave carers the same rights as service users of Care Act services, supposedly (according to the Guidance, at least) eg a right to assessment for support needs; a right to an eligibility decision; a right to a personal budget if one is found to HAVE eligible needs – and a right to have that budget turned into a direct payment, if one meets certain criteria in the opinion (the reasonable opinion) of the council.

So, overnight, an awful lot of people who had not been seen as carers before, became carers, now, in legal terms, and got some important legal rights.

If one is in a care home, one may well be getting 24 hour supervision, but if one is being visited by one’s friends and relatives, providing practical or emotional support, by whatever means, (supporting the feeding task, for instance, or with mobilising or even toileting) then they count as carers, even if they are not wanting or needing an assessment for their support needs.

If one is in supported living or Shared Lives arrangements, one is (other than exceptionally) a person living in one’s own home, and one has access to a normalised lifestyle and relationships with all the people who already mattered: they can all count as carers, if they are providing practical or emotional support.

If one is in an acute hospital, one may be visited, wheeled around, walked up and down the ward, brought things, get one’s laundry done, and have one’s affairs managed with input from oneself or not even that, depending on one’s capacity at the time – all from one’s hospital bed. That is all care, for Care Act purposes.

If one is a Continuing Health Care patient getting free care, one might be in any given setting, with one’s relatives and friends contributing to the care package and spending time with the person: the NHS benefits from not having to spend money to do what these individuals are doing, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not carers for Care Act purposes. The National Framework says so, and it makes perfect legal sense.

The same is true for anyone released from compulsory detention under the Mental Health Act: s117 entitles all such people to free aftercare, for their mental health rehab needs, but they are not Care Act patients for those services. Their carers – that massive band of people AROUND a mentally unwell person – often massively affected by gaps in the community mental health Trusts capacity to provide services direct to the client – are all carers under the Care Act.

The person you are caring for does not have to be eligible for services under the Care Act, in order for you to count as a carer.  It doesn’t have to be hands on care; it doesn’t have to be intimate personal care, to count, and the setting where one is doing it makes no difference at all. 

The Care Act gives carers legal rights – the Guidance doesn’t make it easy to find them, as there is no chapter for carers, but if anyone who counts as a carer gets a bit more legally literate, it can only help the overall situation.


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