Complex claiming

Carer’s allowance is the only social security benefit that is targeted specifically at carers. Older carers have the same right to claim it as any other carer, but many older carers are missing out because of the complexity of the system and some rather bizarre rules.

The Department for Work and Pensions, to its credit, is making attempts to reach the large number of older carers who may have missed out. In one recent “trawl” of older carers getting pension credit, for example, the DWP discovered 20,000 cases of underpayment and £30m of unpaid pension credit which has now been belatedly paid-over. However, the DWP is still concentrating on pensioners who have already got pension credit, so there may be many more who are missing out because their status as carers hasn’t been recognised.

To gain carer’s allowance, the carer has to be aged 16 or over (there is now no upper age limit) and providing care for at least 35 hours a week to a person who is getting any rate of attendance allowance, or the middle or higher rate of the care component of disability living allowance (DLA).

The problem for older carers is that carer’s allowance is what is known as an “overlapping benefit”. This means that it is not paid to the carer if they are already getting a retirement pension that is worth more – which it usually is.

Many older carers therefore decide not to waste their time filling in a claim form for a benefit that they know in advance that they will not receive. But that is a mistake that could easily cost them over £1,300 a year.

We always advise that older carers should still apply for carer’s allowance, even when we know their claim will fail, because that will establish “underlying entitlement”. Assuming the carer meets the other rules for getting carer’s allowance, the refusal letter from the carer’s allowance unit in Preston acts as proof that the person is a carer. This, in turn, means that a £25.80 a week “carer’s additional amount” should be automatically built into their pension credit. Or at least it should be automatic – but the missing 20,000 cases referred to above shows that the system is far from foolproof, even where the person has made the carer’s allowance claim.

Worse still, they may have missed out on pension credit, because, for example, their income was £10 a week too high. The inclusion of the extra amount for being a carer would make them eligible for pension credit (in that example, of £15.80 per week). As yet, however, the DWP hasn’t “trawled” for those cases.

A similar effect occurs with housing and council tax benefit.

Welfare rights advisers have been urging the DWP to streamline this cumbersome route that many older carers have to go through to get extra benefit. In particular, older disabled couples who care for each other would benefit enormously from a better system. They often lose out on two additional carer’s payments because they wrongly believe that carer’s allowance is an irrelevance to them.

See Special Focus, for more on older carers.

Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a question to be answered  please write to him c/o Community Care

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