Understanding carers: a guide for local authorities

Under the Care Act 2014, councils across England have a key role in assessing the support needs of carers. But with a recent Healthwatch report stating that those providing unpaid care are struggling to find help, Sarah Scobie pulls together sources of information to help local authorities understand the needs of carers in their area.


Published: 08/10/2018

For the first time, the 2014 Care Act recognised carers in law, giving them legal rights to assessment and support, in the same way as those they care for. Local authorities need to identify carers in their area, and provide or arrange help, support and information to improve their own wellbeing, as well as the wellbeing of the people they care for. 

We have pulled together information to support local assessment of the needs of carers, asking these questions:

  • How many carers are there, who are they, and who do they care for?
  • What services and support are currently provided for carers?
  • What is the experience of carers, and where are their gaps in support?

We also highlight information gaps.

Number and characteristics of carers 08/10/2018


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Services for carers 08/10/2018


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Carers' experiences 08/10/2018


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A number of national surveys include a breakdown of results by carers, but not at a local level. For example, the Office for National Statistics’s home and media survey provides a breakdown of internet use and access to information among people who are carers.

Carers: outcome measures

There are currently six measures relating to carers in the Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework:

Gaps in information

Although the 2014 Care Act gives carers the legal right to assessment, there is currently no systematic information available to know how local authorities are doing in meeting their obligations. Information is not available on either the numbers of people who have requested an assessment, or the number who have received one. 

Information on waiting times for carers’ assessments is also not available routinely, although Healthwatch England report that waiting times are an issue for many carers. Long waiting times are likely to result in crisis situations for carers and vulnerable people, as people often seek help when they are struggling. By the time their needs are assessed, it may be too late to provide preventative support – resulting in a poor outcome for the person needing care and their carers, and putting greater pressure on NHS and social care services. Ideally, carers’ assessments should be taking place on a preventative basis, to ensure that support is available for individuals to provide care in a sustainable way – enabling them to maintain a good quality of life.

To complete the picture, more detail on the outcome of assessments is also needed. Information is available at a high level about what services are received, but it is not clear whether these meet the assessed needs.

References and policy documents (click on each for more information)

Care Act (2014)

First carers strategy (2008)

Carers action plan (2018)

Overview of challenges with social care, including the importance of carers (2018)

Experience of informal carers, based on analysis of the Survey of Adult Carers experience (2018)

Suggested citation

Scobie S (2018) "Understanding carers: a guide for local authorities". Resource, Nuffield Trust.


Appears in

Health & social care explained 20/12/2016


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