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Time off

Breaks from caring

Grey-haired woman pruning roses: decorative image

Breaks or time off from caring are vital. Whether it's an hour every day, a couple of hours a week or a two-week holiday, we all need some time to ourselves, and carers are no exception. Breaks for carers are meant to give you time off from your caring role as well as enable you to do something that you want to do for yourself.

It's easy to run out of time for yourself, and you may feel that you have to give up your work or studies in order to cope. Giving up important things in your own life can leave you feeling cut off from friends and workmates, and you may miss out on qualifications or get into financial difficulty.

Why breaks are important

Breaks from caring (sometimes called respite care) are important because of the potential health consequences of being a long-term carer. Research suggests that carers who provide high levels of care are more than twice as likely to have poor health than people with no caring responsibilities.

For this reason, local authorities consider time off from being a carer as part of your carer’s assessment. The carer’s assessment has to consider your needs relating to your:

  • Health – for example, whether you are able to cope with moving someone if you have your own health problems.
  • Choices – such as whether you want to continue caring.
  • Work – for example, you may find it easier to continue working if a paid care worker cares for the person you're looking after for at least part of the day. Remember to talk to your employer about ways of combining work and caring.
  • Learning – for example, where and how you want to study and how much time you want to spend learning.
  • Leisure – having interests of your own outside your caring role is important, for example, reading, seeing friends, fishing or swimming.

Other commitments

You may also get a break from caring because the person you care for is assessed as needing ‘replacement care’. For more information on how the person you care for may qualify for replacement care, see the community care assessment pages.

A break from caring does not have to mean a break from the person you look after. A break from caring means that you have time off from the reponsibility of looking after the person’s care needs. Indeed, many carers use their break from caring to spend time on activities or holidays with the person they care for.

Your rights and breaks from caring

The Carers Equal Opportunities Act (2004) was introduced to ensure that you have the support you need to achieve a better balance in your life. The Act gives you the right to ask the local authority of the person you look after for a carer’s assessment of your needs. During a carer’s assessment, the local authority will ask you about your work, learning and leisure requirements.

Your needs

Many carers have friends and family who are able to help you with caring at home on an informal or regular basis. However, you may need more help than that, or you might have no friends or relatives around to help.

You can have your own needs assessed even if the person you're looking after hasn't had their care needs assessed. The assessment will help you and the local authority social services department to draw up a care plan with details of the support and services you need, including breaks.

There may be some tasks that you find difficult, or you may find it too difficult to continue caring. It's important to tell the person carrying out the carer’s assessment if you're finding it hard to manage.

After the assessment, the local authority must consider your needs when it decides what help to give you and the person you look after. This is sometimes called a care plan. You should be given a copy of this.

The local authority sometimes charges for the services it provides you. The amount you're charged varies around the country. Make sure that you understand the charging policy, and ask to have it in writing.

Help with getting breaks from caring

The pages in this section can give you more information about how to get a break from caring including what to do if you are going away without the person you care for. There are also tips and suggestions on different holidays, day trips and accessible leisure activities that might be of interest to you and the person you care for.

Caring and learning

Barbara is a full-time carer for her autistic children. Watch how she keeps an outside interest by studying with the Open University.


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Last reviewed: 26/07/2011

Next review due: 26/07/2013

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