What are carers in each of the four UK countries entitled to?

This explainer covers the support that carers, both informal and formal, are able to claim under national or local criteria within each of the four UK countries.

Blog post

Published: 15/04/2020

Key points

  • In each of the four UK countries, there is a strong and heavy reliance on informal carers. Figures from the last census in 2011 estimate the number of informal carers across the UK to be in the region of 6.5 million, and it is likely that this has risen since then.
  • Carers in each of the UK countries are eligible for assessments by their local authority or Health and Social Care Trust. Eligible individuals are entitled to a support plan.
  • Different initiatives have been undertaken to support carers and their wellbeing. Of note is Scotland’s Carer’s Allowance Supplement, which brings Carer’s Allowance in line with Jobseeker’s Allowance.




N. Ireland

Estimated number of carers[1] (2011)






Carers in legislation

Care Act 2014

Carers Action Plan 2018

Social Services and Wellbeing Act 2014

Carers Act 2016

Carers and Direct Payments Act 2002


‘An adult who provides or intends to provide care for another adult’

‘A person who provides care or intends to provide care for an adult or disabled child’

‘An individual who provides or intends to provide care for another individual, the cared-for person’

No legislated definition

Legal entitlements

LA duty to provide an assessment and the required services that fall under national eligibility criteria

LA general duty to promote wellbeing of people in need and their carers, under national eligibility criteria

LA duty to provide support to carers under local eligibility criteria

Specific adult carers support plan

Requirement for LAs to have information/advice services for carers

HSCT duty to provide assessment, but HSCTs retain discretion whether or not to provide support

‘LA’ stands for local authority. ‘HSCT’ stands for ‘Health and Social Care Trust’.
* All figures reported here are taken from the UK Census (2011)[2] and are the most recent comparable resource. The 759,000 figure is reported by the Scottish government (2015)[3] and represents numbers of carers over 16. The data are collected differently and are therefore not directly comparable. Assessing the ‘actual’ number of carers has been reported as a challenge across all four nations.


The Care Act (2014) provided a new definition of a carer (‘an adult who provides or intends to provide care for another adult’), and established duties for local authorities to provide an assessment and support to eligible needs.

As such, individuals providing informal care are entitled to a carer’s assessment by the local authority to determine how to support the carer’s needs and whether their role is sustainable in the long term. Carer entitlement is subject to national eligibility criteria if the local authority believes the carer has needs[4]:

  1. Arising from the care and support provided to another individual
  2. The carer is unable to achieve some of the outcomes listed in the eligibility regulations or is at a risk of their physical or mental health deteriorating
  3. The carer’s wellbeing is affected as a result of this.

Carers are also entitled to a Carer’s Allowance, administered by the Department for Work and Pensions, if they care for someone at least 35 hours a week. This is set at £66.15 a week. While there have been calls to increase the Carer’s Allowance in line with Jobseeker’s Allowance (see Scotland), it seems unlikely this will happen in the near future. 

With strains on formal provision of care and a growth in need, it is likely that the number of informal carers has grown substantially since the 2011 Census[5], and that the number of people in receipt of the Carer’s Allowance is rising[6]. Surveys of carers suggest that their welfare is decreasing as their workload becomes greater and their access to local support is reduced.[7] Attempts to provide greater support to carers have included the development of the Carers Action Plan 2018–2020 and the Supporting carers in general practice framework. However, many carers have reported that the provisions of the Care Act have made little difference[8], suggesting that more needs to be done to provide carers with the support they need.


Similarly to England, the Social Services and Wellbeing Act 2014 provides a new definition of a carer in Wales (‘a person who provides or intends to provide care for an adult or disabled child’) and establishes duties to local authorities to provide support to carers on the same grounds as the person being cared for.[9]

As such, the local authority has a duty to assess any carer and the carer’s ability and willingness to provide care and support to an individual. Any carer who meets the eligibility criteria (identical to the person in need of care and support) must receive a support plan from the local authority. As the Carer’s Allowance is administered by the Department for Work and Pensions and is not devolved, rates of pay and eligibility criteria are identical to England, meaning eligible carers can receive £66.15 per week.

Stakeholders and citizens’ reports such as Measuring the mountain have highlighted some positive examples of collaboration between local authorities and carer support groups in line with the ‘values base’ of the Social Services and Wellbeing Act. However, Carers Wales reports that, in 2018–19 up to 55% of carers had not received the appropriate information and support the Act legislates. 85% of respondents had also not received a carer’s need assessment in the past year, despite demand. The number of informal carers has been growing rapidly, with Wales having the highest proportion of young carers in the UK.[10]


In Scotland, carers are protected under carer-specific legislation; namely the Carers Act 2016, which provides a definition of a carer, a young carer, and an adult carer (a carer is ‘an individual who provides or intends to provide care for another individual, the cared-for person’).

As such, the act establishes duties for local authorities and health and social care partnerships to provide support for carers under a self-directed support plan also specifically known as an Adult Carers’ Support Plan.[11] Local authorities have discretion to set the level of eligibility at which carers can receive support under a self-directed support plan, which in practice means there are different access thresholds (although most are set at a ‘substantial’ need for support).

In an attempt to recognise carers’ contributions to the care of individuals and to the wider economy, the Scottish government introduced the Carer’s Allowance Supplement in 2018 to align the Carer’s Allowance (currently £66.15 per week and aligned with the Department for Work and Pensions) with Jobseeker’s Allowance (see Welfare benefits for more detail). Scotland has also developed a Young Carer Grant, which delivers an additional payment of £300 yearly to carers aged 16–18 and which can be spent as the carer chooses.

Despite this active recognition of the role of informal care in supporting service users, Carers Scotland[12] recently reported that implementation of the Carers Act has varied across Scottish regions, and many carers have struggled under financial pressure. The report also acknowledges the skew towards older and female carers, which stakeholders suggest could be the result of societal expectations.

Northern Ireland

The Carer’s Support and Needs Assessment[13] is a component of the Northern Ireland Single Assessment Tool (NISAT), but it can also be used as a standalone component of care[14]. Carers deemed eligible under the NISAT are entitled to a self-directed support plan. As with assessment for service users, the Health and Social Care Trust retains the right to determine whether an individual is eligible under the assessment.[15] Although benefits are devolved to the Department for Communities, carers are entitled to a Carer’s Allowance of £66.15 per week – identical to the other UK nations, and under the same eligibility criteria.[16]

It has been argued that legislation surrounding carers in Northern Ireland is outdated,[17] with the most recent legislation, the Carers and Direct Payments Act, dating back to 2002. This provides no legislated definition of a carer. More recent policy papers, such as Transforming your care in 2013, have recognised the need for carers to be included in strategic implementation plans and to have an increased uptake of the Carer’s Assessment. Power to people, in 2017, included specific proposals for reform of carer support, with an alignment with the English Care Act as a minimum.

Stakeholders reported a very strong tradition of caring in Northern Ireland, with the majority being women,[18] although this was felt to be changing. The heavy reliance on informal carers suggests this move away from traditional caring responsibilities could have an impact on the sustainability of the social care system. As with the other nations of the UK, concerns were raised about the health and wellbeing of carers, along with financial hardship.[19]

Suggested citation

Oung C, Curry N and Schlepper L (2020) 'What are carers entitled to?, in Adult social care in the four countries of the UK. Explainer series, Nuffield Trust.