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Time off

Getting a break from caring

There are many different ways for carers to get a break from caring, whether it's for a week, one morning a week or just occasionally. And there are even more ways of spending your time once you've got time off from being a carer.

Replacement care

Replacement care is designed to replace the care that you, as a carer, would normally be giving the person you care for. If the person you care for has a community care assessment, you may be offered replacement care as a result. 

A community care assessment only takes into account the care needs of the person you care for, so it may not give you the break that you need as a carer. It's best, therefore, to make sure that both of you are assessed.

The local authority will consider what help you need and decide which community care services it will provide to help. Local authorities charge for some community care services.

This information is available from your local authority's social services department.

The person you care for may also want to go on holiday without you. For more information, see Types of breaks.

If you're finding it difficult to get replacement care through your local authority, you may want to complain or dispute the decision. It's a good idea to get support from a local advocacy organisation or carers' centre. Speak to one of our advisers or search our online directory to find help in your area.

Carer's tip from Netbuddy

"Some hospices provide respite care; we have found this very helpful. They offer high level care, which means you can feel comfortable your family member is being cared for properly."


Visit Netbuddy to read more carers' tips like this

Respite care

In some areas, respite care is provided by your local authority after you've had a carer's assessment. In other areas, access to respite care is provided through a community care assessment for the person you're looking after.

It's therefore best to make sure that both of you are assessed. The local authority will consider what help you need and decide which community care services it will provide to help you.

Local authorities charge for some community care services. This information is available from your local authority's social services department.

If you're finding it difficult to get respite care, your local carers' centre or Crossroads branch can give you information about local support. Use our directory of local carers' services to find your nearest local carers' centre or respite service.

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Breaks for carers

Breaks for carers differ from the replacement care available to the person you care for. The government funding for breaks is designed to offer you more than simply time off caring. It offers you the chance to do something for yourself that you want to do.

The breaks are designed to be tailored to your needs as the result of a carer's assessment, which should consider all your choices and needs, including your health, work, leisure, learning and other commitments.

After your carer's assessment, you may agree with your local authority that you need a break as part of your care plan. If the local authority has agreed to fund the breaks in your care plan, you should have a choice of a range of ways that you can get your break.

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Using direct payments to get time off caring

Local authorities should offer you the choice of a direct payment. This is a sum of money that you can use to pay for your breaks. It allows you to choose how you fund your time off and how you spend the time that you have free from caring.

For example, you may choose to hire a careworker through an agency so you can go on a shopping trip, or you might use the direct payment to pay for a supported holiday for both you and the person you care for. The Short Breaks Network can provide more information on this.

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Alternatives to direct payments

You may also want to consider getting a break from caring by:

Replacement care provided by the local authority

You do not have to have a direct payment if you don't want to. You can ask the local authority to arrange services for you so you can have a break. You can also use a direct payment to fund traditional forms of respite care, and you can pool your direct payments with other people's to fund services such as day centres.

Some local authorities may be willing to provide services while you go on holiday if you or the person you are caring for are already receiving support, such as care at home.

  • Some local authorities provide vouchers (sometimes called respite grants or carers' grants) that can be exchanged for services, such as those offered by care agencies or residential homes. You might be able to use vouchers to pay for extra costs associated with your holiday, including live-in careworkers, short stay residential care or the cost of more home care.

If you prefer not to arrange your own care through a direct payment, you might want to consider:

  • home care services – these can either be day services that give you the chance to do an activity inside or outside the home, or night services that can help you get a proper night's sleep. You may prefer helpers to come to the home of the person you're caring for. This will depend on how long you will be away and the needs of the person you care for. Different types of help can be organised, including sitting with the person you care for and keeping them company, preparing meals, and helping them to get up, washed and dressed. The care workers who come to your home can also provide social activities, such as taking the person you care for to the cinema, pub or shopping.
  • residential or nursing care – this is where the person you're looking after goes for a short stay in a residential or nursing home. If you can manage it, visit the care or nursing home beforehand so you can see what it's like. That way you can make sure that you're happy with it and reassure yourself that the person you look after will be properly cared for.
  • day care – this is where the person you're looking after goes to a day centre or takes part in activities away from home.

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Benevolent funds or charity funding

You may be able to get help with the cost of going on holiday, either alone or with the person you care for, from a charity or benevolent fund. Your social worker, GP, health visitor or local carers support group can give you more information on local benevolent funds and other possible sources of funding. You might find help from the following:

  • Saga Respite for Carers Trust provides a limited number of free holidays each year for carers over the age of 50 and the people they look after.
  • The Family Fund can provide grants towards the cost of holidays for families on a low income who are caring for a child with a severe disability.
  • The Family Holiday Association is a UK charity providing breaks at holiday sites, or grants to help with the cost of a holiday, to low income families in need of a holiday away from home. You need to be referred by your social worker, GP or health visitor, or by a charity or other welfare agent.
  • The Children's Country Holiday Fund provides respite breaks in the countryside for young carers aged six to 16 and disadvantaged children and young people. 

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Paying for your own breaks

If after a carer's assessment the local authority decides that it will not fund a break for you, you can still decide to pay for your own break from caring. How you go about this will depend on your budget and the care options available to you locally. You can find out more by visiting the page on Funding care.

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Bursaries and low-cost holidays

Some charities offer low-cost holidays or bursaries to families:

  • The national charity Diabetes UK offers support holidays for children with diabetes aged seven to 18. Holidays are low cost and a bursary can be offered to families who can't afford the travel costs to the UK holiday site. Further information can be found on the Diabetes UK website or on 020 7424 1000 (ask for the care support team).
  • Turn2us, an independent charity, can help you find sources of financial support based on your particular needs and circumstances.

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Leisure discounts

Many local authorities offer leisure cards. These can help you pay for activities that you might like to do when you get a break from caring.

They're often available to people claiming benefits such as Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Carer's Allowance and benefits for disabled people, students over 18 in full-time education and people over 60. The eligibility requirements vary between areas, but there's a good chance that you'll qualify if you're a carer with a low income.

Local authorities usually make a small annual charge for the card, from £1 up to around £15. You'll probably be asked for some proof of your entitlement, such as a statement of entitlement for Income Support or an official letter.

Discount leisure cards can give you discounts of between 10 and 50% on activities, services and entertainment. These range from sporting activities at local leisure centres to cinemas, theatres, libraries, museums, hairdressers and beauty salons.

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Asking friends and family to help

Friends and family can provide an important network for you and the person you care for, especially when you need a break from caring. They can provide care for free and without any bureaucracy. They also offer the advantage of already knowing you and the person you care for, and may already know about the care needs of the person you care for.

However, friends and family are not the same as paid professional careworkers, and regular caring can place the same stresses on them that you may feel yourself. They may also be unable or unwilling to commit to giving you a break when you need it, especially if you are caring for much of the time.

If you're finding it difficult to get alternative care, your local carers' centre or Crossroads Care branch can give you information about local support. Use the directory of local carers' services to find your nearest local carers' centre or care service.

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Click on the bar below to find out more about the practicalities of planning a break away without the person you care for.

Going away without the person you care for

Being a carer makes taking a holiday more complicated, and you'll want to be sure of the arrangements for the person you care for while you're away. You have to think about what the person you care for needs while you're away and then make sure everything is arranged.

Make sure that anyone who takes over from you has all the information they need to look after the person you care for. This may include what they like to eat and at what time, as well as more complex information about the medicines they need to take.

It's important to leave a clear list of contacts. These should include the doctor's number, those of nearby family members and friends, and your own number in case of emergencies. If you have an emergency plan, go through it with the people who will be providing replacement care.

If the person you care for needs specialist medical or nursing help while you're away, you should arrange this through their GP. This specialist help can include visits from a district nurse or from a community psychiatric nurse. There is no charge for this healthcare, but each health authority decides what care it will provide.

Carers: Julie's story

Julie is a full-time carer. In this video she explains how she copes and where she found help. Call the Carers Direct helpline on 0300 123 1053 and get free, confidential information and advice for carers.

Media last reviewed: 14/12/2012

Next review due: 14/12/2014


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Page last reviewed: 19/08/2013

Next review due: 19/08/2015

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