Carer’s allowance too little, too late

for benefit changes must be made by 15 October. Time to speak up, says Gary

Carers are at the forefront – at last – of much of the
government’s social policy agenda. Benefit changes for carers are planned, too
– but do they go far enough?

There is at
least some time to influence the debate about benefits for carers. The
government published a consultation paper in July and you have until 15 October
to send in your comments to the Department for Work and Pensions.

The changes were trailed last year so there are
no real surprises in the consultation paper. However, if you work with carers,
your views about what benefits they should receive, and not just the
suggestions put forward by the DWP, should get an airing. There are four main
changes being proposed.

First, carers aged 65 and over will be able to
claim invalid care allowance (ICA) for the first time.

At present, it can carry on if claimed before
65, but can’t be claimed by people who first become
eligible after the age of 65. This change will bring many thousands of older
people  potentially onto ICA. But the
change is not as generous as it first looks as ICA “overlaps” with retirement

This means that both can’t be paid to the same
person at the same time. The government aren’t proposing to change that rule,
so the actual gains will be far fewer as ICA is so much lower than retirement
pensions, very few will benefit by being better-off with ICA.

However, it will mean that older carers who are
on income support or housing benefit will gain something: rather confusingly,
they will be able to claim ICA knowing that it won’t actually be paid to them
because it is less than their pension. But that action will give them
“underlying entitlement” to ICA, which in turn unlocks access to the £24.40 per
week carer’s premium. Not an easy process to understand!

Second, carers aged 65-plus should have to meet
the full conditions of entitlement for ICA.

This is really a tidying-up amendment. At
present, carers who are over 65 and qualified for ICA before they are 65 can
keep the benefit, even if they stop being carers. That “concession” will be
removed (although existing claimants will be protected), as a consequence of
the first proposal listed above.

Third, ICA will be paid for eight weeks after
the death of the cared-for person.

This will give people a brief breathing space
to adjust their finances. Some claimants will not need this because they will
transfer to bereavement benefits anyway, but it will help many carers in the
immediate period after a death.

And fourth, ICA will change its name to carer’s

And about time too. Invalid is a dated term and
also implies that the carer is simply an extension of the person they care for.

So do these changes go far enough? It would be
good to see carer’s allowance paid as a bonus like attendance allowance, and
not be treated as overlapping with retirement pensions. That way, there would
be no need for a carers premium, which would simplify income support and other
means-tested benefits. Given that this level of generosity is unlikely, then
why not push for the carer premium to be increased from its current £24.40 up
to the level of ICA (£41.75)? This would at least ensure that older, poorer
carers would get the full value of the carer’s allowance.

And why is there to be an arbitrary eight-week
cut off after a death? And why only after a death? Is eight weeks too soon for
carer’s allowance to stop? Should it also carry on if the person being cared for
goes into residential, nursing or hospital care? The carer has to make as much
of an adjustment to their finances. Whatever your views, now’s the time to let
the Department for Work and Pensions know about them.                

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