A carer is someone who regularly provides care to a family member, neighbour or friend who may be ill, elderly or have a disability. You do not have to live with the person or be related.

Carers help with:

  • washing, dressing or taking medicines
  • getting out and about and travelling to doctors’ appointments
  • shopping, cleaning and laundry
  • paying bills and organising finances
  • they can also give emotional support by sitting with someone to keep them company or watching over someone if they can’t be left alone.

A carer’s lifestyle is often restricted based on their commitment to someone in need. This can be both mentally and physically exhausting so it is therefore important that carers need to also look after their own health. Carers have a legal right to an assessment of their own needs, separate from the person they care for. Within Northern Ireland’s local health trust there are facilities to support carers. Assessments are carried out to establish what support is needed as every carer’s needs are different (as are those of the people they care for). Carer’s circumstances such as age, gender and general health and well being are taken into account.

Support can be in many forms

  • training for the carer (managing medicines, moving, handling or swallowing)
  • emotional support for the carer through support groups or alternative therapies
  • practical support within the home
  • financial support towards a short break or leisure activity
  • help with housework
  • adaption to the home or additional equipment provided

Where does the assessment take place?

The assessment can take place at your home or the home of the person you care for. The person you care for does not need to be present. If there is more than one carer providing regular care in your household, you are both entitled to an assessment.

What does the assessment involve?

The assessment is a discussion to look at how caring affects your life, including your physical, mental and emotional needs. The following areas should be covered in the interview:

  • your caring role
  • your feelings and choices about caring
  • your health
  • your work
  • other family commitments
  • what you enjoy doing to relax
  • planning for emergencies
  • whether you’re willing or able to carry on in your caring role.

Before going into the assessment think about your role as a carer and answer all questions honestly.

It might help to talk things through with family and friends, or to keep a diary for a week about the care you’re providing, how it affects you and makes you feel, you might be surprised at how much you actually do! Without support, will you struggle to provide the care that the person you’re caring for needs? It may not be realistic for you to provide all the support that your loved one needs, so don’t feel guilty if you can’t do it all.

In many cases, it’s better for trained professionals to carry out certain tasks – they have the time and energy to dedicate to the job. You might not have this if you’re an older person or you’re also juggling work and/or a family.

Before the assessment, think about the following, make notes and take them into the assessment with you:

  • Will you be able to talk freely if the person you care for is present?
  • Do you want, or are you able, to carry on caring for your family member or friend?
  • If you’re prepared to continue, is there anything that could make your life easier?
  • Without support, is there a risk that you might not be able to continue caring for your family member or friend?
  • Do you have any physical or mental health problems, including stress or depression, that make your role as a carer more difficult?
  • Does being a carer affect your relationships with other people, including the person you’re caring for as well as other family and friends?
  • If you have a job, does being a carer cause problems?
  • Would you like more time to yourself so that you can sleep, take a break or enjoy some leisure activity? If so, what would you like to do?
  • Would you like to do some training, voluntary work or paid work? If so, what would you like to do?

What happens once the assessment has been completed?

When the assessment is complete, the social worker from your health trust will decide whether your needs are ‘eligible’ for support. If you don’t have eligible needs, then you should be given a written decision explaining this.

If you do have eligible needs, the Health Trust must offer support to meet these needs. You can decide if you want to accept the offered support or not. Details of your eligible needs and how these will be met should be written up in a support plan. Check that you’re happy with the support plan and that it identifies your needs correctly. If you’re unhappy, speak to the person who carried out the assessment.

Financial Benefits for Carers

In some cases financial benefits are available. We have listed some criteria as a guideline for eligibility:

  • you look after someone who gets a qualifying disability benefit
  • you look after that person for at least 35 hours a week
  • you are aged 16 or over you are not in full-time education
  • you don’t earn over £123 a week (after deductions)
  • you satisfy UK residence and presence conditions

Due to the benefit system being complex and tailored to individuals, we recommend you initially make contact by telephone to check eligibility. Northern Ireland has three help lines for different purposes:

Benefit Enquiry Line for General Questions: 0800 022 4250 (text phone: 028 9031 1092)

Welfare Changes Helpline for Independent Advice on Benefits Changes: 0808 802 0020

Make the Call – to check you’re not missing out on benefits: 0808 232 1271

Or click:

Here: to apply online of download a claim form.

Here: for more help and advice.

Working and caring

New research by Carers NI shows the average number of carers in the workplace is 15% across the UK, meaning almost 125,000 people in Northern Ireland are juggling their paid job with caring; that is 1/7 of all workers here in NI. Adults aged 45-64 year olds are most likely to have a caring responsibility.

As a carer you may have to adjust your work arrangements. This could include allowing you to be contacted during working hours, or needing to take leave at short notice or in an emergency. Carers now have more statutory rights to meet their caring needs. It is important you talk to your employer and explain your circumstances. They will be able to guide you through their policies and procedures and explain what they can do to support you at this time.  Carers NI provide advice, information, support and training to employers around the issue of caring and work. For further information email: clareanne.magee@carersni.org

Here are some more useful contact for carers:

Carers NI – part of the Carers UK, who campaign on behalf of carers on policy matters. Telephone: 028 9043 9843 Email: advice@carersni.org

Age NI – Telephone: 028 9024 5729 Advice Line: 0808 807 575 Email info@ageni.org

Alzheimer’s society – Helpline: 03002 21 122 Email: nir@alzheimers.org

Autism NI – Telephone: 028 9040 1729 Email: info@autismni.org Website: www.autism.org

Brain Injury Matters NI – Telephone: 028 9070 5125 Email: info@braininjurymatters.org.uk

Contact Northern Ireland – information and advice for families with a child with a disability or special needs. Telephone: 028 9262 7552 Email: Lindsay.wallace@contact.org Website: www.contact.org.uk/northernireland  

Cancer,caring, coping – Being a carer for someone with cancer can impact on your life in many ways.  Carers talk about living with cancer and what they found helped.  It is sometimes easy to neglect your own needs when caring for a loved one and your own health and wellbeing can suffer as a result.  The importance of looking after yourself and taking time out from the caring role is explored here. https://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/CancerCaringCoping/CaringforYourself

Down’s Syndrome Association – Telephone: 028 9066 5260 Email: enquiriesni@downs-syndrom.org.uk Website:  www.downs-syndom.org.uk

Macmillan Cancer Information & Support Service – provides a one stop shop for all services relating to cancer. Telephone: 028 9055 3246 Email: macmillan.informationandsupport@setrust.net

Mencap – Freephone: 0808 808 1111 Email: helpline.ni@mencap.org.uk Website: www.mencap.org.uk

Mindwise – Support and advice for people with learning disabilities, their families and other carers. Helpline: 028 9040 2323 Email info@mindwisenv.org Website: www.mindwisenv.org

National Autistic Society NI – Telephone: 028 9068 7066 Email northern.ireland@nas.org.uk Website: www.nas.org.uk

NI Chest, Heart and Stroke- Helpline: 028 9040 2323 Email mail@nichs.org.uk Website:  www.nichs.org.uk

Family Fund – Supporting families with a child with a disability aged 17 or under. Website: www.familyfund.org.uk

NI Direct – Official Government Website for information for carers. Website: www.nidirect.gov.uk/index/caring-for-someone.htm