One-fifth of carers have trouble applying for carer’s allowance while the government has no current idea of the take-up rate for the benefit, the National Audit Office said today.
In a report on the Department for Work and Pensions’ role in supporting carers, the public spending watchdog said the majority of carers claiming benefits were satisfied with the support they received from the DWP.
It said the £2bn spent on carers’ benefits by the DWP was delivered efficiently and it had made improvements in processing carers’ claims in recent years.
But it said that 20% of carers surveyed by the NAO had trouble applying for carer’s allowance – which is worth £50.55 per week and is received by 481,000 people who provide at least 35 hours a week of care to a disabled person.
About half of this group had trouble understanding the eligibility criteria or the application process and half complained about the length of time it took to process their claim.
The NAO said the interaction between carer’s allowance and other benefits was complex, could delay payments and confused some carers.
Carer’s allowance is only paid to people caring for someone receiving attendance allowance or the care component of disability living allowance, while for others eligibility for carer’s allowance is cancelled out because they claim another benefit, such as the state pension.
Carers UK’s director of policy and public affairs, Emily Holzhausen, said: “It is unacceptable that one in five carers finds it difficult to claim carers’ benefits and face complex and impenetrable rules that make little common sense. For example, some carers have to claim carer’s allowance even though they will not be paid the benefit, simply to be passported onto other income related benefits.”
The NAO also found that 70% of carers who had contacted Jobcentre Plus for employment support in the past year had found that its services were not well suited to their personal circumstances, for example their need to work restricted hours.
It said Jobcentre Plus was not always consistent in its service to carers with some offices failing to ensure carers are always seen by personal advisers with either caring experience or with experience of assisting carers, disabled people or lone parents.
The NAO called on the DWP to work out the current take-up rate of carer’s allowance and identify the most cost-effective ways of increasing it. It also urged the DWP’s Pension, Disability and Carers Service to draw up a plan and timetable for improving communications with carers about claiming benefits.
It said Jobcentre Plus should provide services that are more suited to carers’ needs, for instance by funding alternative care arrangements to enable them to attend interviews, a service currently offered to lone parents.
The DWP welcomed the report. A spokesperson said: “Carers provide an incredibly important service to some of our most vulnerable people in society and we want to ensure that they get all the help they deserve. Jobcentre Plus staff are trained in this field, and we have enhanced this expertise by providing an intranet portal for all staff who might potentially work with a carers. This will ensure staff can continue to offer carers a high level of support.”
The report comes ahead of a parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall today on the government’s response to a work and pensions select committee report last year, which urged an overhaul of carers benefits.
In response to the committee’s call for a more generous system, which echoed proposals from Carers UK, the government denied that the level of carers benefits was inadequate but repeated pledges to review the current system.