Carers UK has renewed calls for an overhaul of carers’ benefits following strong criticism today of Department for Work and Pensions services for the group by a panel of MPs.
A report by the House of Commons public accounts committee, Supporting Carers to Care, blamed the DWP for creating an “unnecessarily complex” and confusing benefits system that prevented many carers from receiving their entitlements.
A fifth of carers face benefits barriers
It cited figures collated by the National Audit Office for a report published in February which showed that a fifth of carers had difficulties in applying for carer’s allowance and additional payments such as the carer premium, which is paid to carers on income support or pension credit.
For instance, under the current system, carers who are prevented from claiming carer’s allowance because they receive other benefits of greater value must still apply for the allowance to claim carer premium or other top-up payments.
The DWP was accused of “lengthy, incomprehensible” communication with carers despite being previously warned about its ineffectiveness in this area.
No reliable estimate on carer’s allowance take-up
It was also slated for not having a reliable estimate of the take-up rate for carer’s allowance, meaning that the department was unable to tell whether the benefit was reaching those in greatest need.
The committee also warned that Jobcentre Plus staff had an “insufficient understanding” of carers’ needs.
In addition, it found that although £25m of a promised £38m fund had been spent by the DWP in developing Jobcentre Plus carers’ services as part of the 2008 National Carers Strategy, the remaining £13m had not been specifically ring-fenced. It warned that this money was in danger of being diverted to other Jobcentre Plus customers.
In a range of recommendations, the report said that the DWP should make it possible for carers who are eligible for top-up payments to apply directly without first having to apply for carer’s allowance.
It also called on the department to review its communications strategy and said that Jobcentre Plus personal advisers should be incentivised to find part-time jobs for carers that suited their particular circumstances.
Carers UK chief executive Imelda Redmond said that it was unacceptable that one in five carers were facing difficulties in taking up benefits and that many were also being hit by delays in their applications.
System ‘must be overhauled’
She added: “The benefits system has to be overhauled for carers. They are saving the state a staggering £87bn a year and feel frustrated that the benefits system does not meet their needs.
“Carer’s allowance is not fit for purpose and this report gives extra weight to the calls to overhaul the whole system.”
In December, disability minister Jonathan Shaw admitted that carers’ benefits should be reformed as part of a wider shake-up of the welfare system in a response to a work and pensions select committee report last year, Valuing and Supporting Carers.
However, no timetable has been issued for doing so.
The National Carers Strategy, published in June 2008. pledged that no carer would be left in financial hardship.
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