Balancing work with care responsibilities

The UK has over 3 million working carers - that is 1 in 7 of the workforce attempting to juggle caring responsibilities with paid employment. If you are a working carer, you may worry that disclosing your caring responsibilities at work will jeopardise your job. It is up to you whether you tell your employer or not. As an employee you have some statutory rights, but if your employer understands your caring role he/she may be prepared to offer additional support.

Carers right to request flexible working

The Work and Families Act 2006 gives carers the right to request flexible working while employers have a duty to consider such requests. This right applies to parents of disabled children and carers of adults who have worked for their employer for a minimum of 26 weeks.

For carers of adults this right applies to employees who are currently, or expect to be, caring for another adult who:

  • is married to, or is the partner or civil partner of the employee; or
  • is a near relative of the employee; or
  • lives at the same address as the employee. 

The 'near relative' definition includes parents, parents-in-law, adult child, adopted adult child, siblings (including those who are in-laws), uncles, aunts, grandparents or step relatives.

You can ask your employer to consider any of the following:

  • flexible starting and finishing times
  • compressed working hours
  • annualised working hours
  • job sharing or part time working
  • home working or tele-working
  • term - time working 

To apply, you need to write to your employer asking for the changes you would like and saying why these would help you. You should also show how any proposed changes would fit in with the demands of your company's work patterns.

You can only make one request a year and any adjustments agreed will mean permanent change to your contract of employment. It is therefore important to think carefully about any financial or practical implications before proceeding with your application.

If your employer refuses, you can appeal against the decision. Employers may choose to offer flexible working to all employees, so it is worth asking about your company's policy first.

Career breaks

You may be able to use annual leave or unpaid leave to cover periods of intensive caring. If you are thinking of giving up work, it is worth asking whether your employer offers a career break scheme. A career break would allow you to keep your options open. If agreed you would have a job to return to and remain in touch with the world of work while you are away.

Time off in emergencies

You have the right to a 'reasonable' amount of time off to deal with emergencies involving a dependant. This right also includes some protection from dismissal. It is at the employer's discretion whether the leave is paid or unpaid. Situations where this leave might be taken include:

  • disruption or breakdown in care arrangements
  • if a dependant falls ill or has been assaulted or in an accident, including when the victim is hurt or upset rather than physically injured.
  • to deal with an incident involving a child during school hours
  • to make longer term arrangements for a dependant who is ill or injured
  • to deal with the death of a dependant 

Parental leave

If you have worked for your employer for more than a year and are responsible for a child born after 15 December 1999 you are entitled to parental leave for:

  • up to 13 weeks for children under 5
  • up to 18 weeks for disabled children (receiving Disability Living Allowance) until their 18th birthday 

You can usually take up to 4 weeks a year. If your child is disabled, you can take the leave as a day or multiples of a day or, for the under 5's in weekly blocks. Parental leave is usually unpaid but employers can choose to offer paid leave - so check your company's policy.

Thinking of leaving work?

If you are finding it difficult to juggle work with your caring role, you may be thinking of leaving your employment. If this is the case it is important to consider what you will be losing and look at your options very carefully.

If you leave work will you:

  • be able to cope with less income?
  • miss the companionship of colleagues?
  • lose independence and a sense of 'self''?
  • lose skills or find that they become out-dated?
  • lose your occupational pension? 

Before you make any decision, do talk to your employer and explain your situation and concerns. You may well be highly valued for your skills and experience, and it could be far less time consuming and more cost effective for the company to offer you flexible arrangements than to recruit and train a new member of staff.

Your employer may look more favourably on your situation than you anticipate, and might have suggestions, which you have not considered to enable you to continue working.

If, after talking to your employer you are still convinced that it is best to leave your work, check all your options before you resign. Perhaps you could take a career break to consider your long term options or maybe you could take early retirement or voluntary redundancy.

Returning to work

Have you been out of work for a while because of your caring role? Are you keen to get back into employment but unsure where to start?

Where to begin - A common barrier faced by carers when they start thinking of returning to work is lack of confidence. Some carers also feel guilt if they have to leave their loved one in someone else's care and overwhelmed by practical issues they face. These feelings can make the world of work appear very daunting, but remember that you are not alone, and there is support available at every stage of the 'back to work process'. On this page is some information that we hope you will find helpful.

Skills and experience - If you have been out of work for some time, you may be worrying that skills you used to rely upon, such as IT, are outdated or rusty. Or you may feel that that you simply don't have the right skills to meet the need in today's workplace. If this is the case, your local college may run a suitable course where you can brush up on your existing knowledge or learn something new. In many cases basic skills courses are free of charge and we can help you identify the right course or support programme for you.

Don't forget too, that although you may feel lacking in confidence because you have been isolated from a working environment, you have probably developed many invaluable and transferable skills precisely because of your caring role.

Job searching and networking - Nowadays many jobs are advertised on the Internet and if you are confident searching the web, this is a great way to locate the most up-to-date information. Direct Gov and Jobsite are good places to start. If you are not comfortable with this, you may want to ask another member of your family to help you or you might like to consider enrolling in a basic computer course.

Jobcentre Plus - Part of the Department of Work and Pensions, has branches in most communities. In 2009, Jobcentre Plus introduced a new scheme specifically to help carers find work, called Work Focused Support for Carers. They may also be able to help pay for replacement care while you attend appointments, take part in training or attend interviews.

Employment agencies - You may wish to register with local employment agencies that recruit in your field. Agencies are often good places to look if you want temporary work.

Newspapers - Local newspapers are often a good place to find jobs in your area, while the national press tends to advertise higher paid, managerial positions which may suit you, particularly if you are prepared to commute (local libraries will have copies of newspapers).

Networking - It is well worth telling friends and neighbours that you are looking for work giving them an indication of the type of employment that you would like to find. Ex colleagues may have information about new opportunities also.

Work and benefits - Many carers worry about how their financial situation will be affected when they return to work. There are some benefits which you are entitled to whether you are working or not, but others are specifically related to your income and / or the hours you work.

Most people should be better off in employment, but benefit rules are complicated and change frequently. In brief, Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Attendance Allowance will not be affected, but you could lose one or more of the following benefits when you move into work:

  • Carers Allowance
  • Job Seekers Allowance
  • Incapacity Benefit
  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Housing Support
  • Council Tax Benefits
  • Other means tested benefits 

On the other hand, you may become entitled to one of the following when you move into work:

  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Childcare Vouchers from your employer
  • In-work credit (single parent) 

For more information visit

Carers assessment - If you are considering returning to work or starting some training and the person you care for still requires care, it is important to have up-to-date carers assessment, even if you have had one previously.

Sometimes it is possible, as a result of registering your needs in this way, to obtain funding to enable you to pursue a training course or other learning opportunities. You can also discuss what caring arrangements, such as a sitting service for the person you care for, will be needed for you to attend such training and or interviews. To arrange an assessment or have a chat about your needs, contact the Carer Support Worker 

Information for employers

According to Employers for Carers, the UK has over 3 million working carers - that is 1 in 7 of the workforce. Most people's lives will include at least one period of caring, and the number of carers is expected to increase from 6 to 9 million in the next 30 years. Most carers are aged 30 to 64, when many have gained valuable skills and experience. It therefore makes sound business sense to support working carers.

Employers for Carers has evolved from a group of employers who are committed to working carers. It is chaired by BT and supported by the specialist knowledge of Carers UK. They provide advice to employers, promote the benefits of supporting carers and work with the Government to deliver the National Carers Strategy launched in 2008.

Other organisations that can provide assistance, advice and support to employers are: -

The Work and Families Act 2006 details carers rights with regard to flexible working. For further information on employees rights, visit the Direct Gov website

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