Carers’ Breaks and Respite Care for Caregivers

May 7, 2024
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The most recent Census estimated that five million people aged five years and over provided unpaid care in England and Wales in 2021. With another 700,000 people in Scotland and Northern Ireland doing the same, this brings the number of unpaid carers in the UK to approximately 5.7 million people. An estimated 4.7% of the population in England and Wales provided at least 20 hours of care a week, with some regularly providing up to 50 hours. Being a caregiver can be physically and mentally exhausting, but there is support available in the form of carers’ breaks and respite care.

This article will explain what respite care and carers’ breaks are, including the different types of respite care available, the responsibilities of a respite carer and how to arrange respite care and take a break from being a caregiver.

What is Respite Care?

Carers look after someone regularly because they have a long term illness, are disabled or are an older person. This includes family members, who are most often unpaid.

For many, providing care can be exhausting, isolating and challenging at times. To enable caregivers to take a step back from their responsibilities, there is support available in the form of respite care to provide a carers’ break. Respite care can help ease the burden of caregiving and promote balance in the carer’s life. It is also beneficial for the person being cared for, as it gives them some variety, introduces them to new activities and environments and brings positive change to their routine.

Respite care refers to the services that can be accessed to allow a caregiver a break from their caring responsibilities. It is a service which is provided to the person being cared for to replace the care usually provided by their caregiver. Carers’ breaks refers to the break from caring that the caregiver is able to have as a result of the respite care provided.

caregiver and elderly woman in the park
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Want to Learn More?

One of the main reasons to take a carers’ break is to take some time out and look after your own wellbeing. If you’re a caregiver and are struggling to look after yourself as well as the person you care for, you are not alone. We suggest ways in which you can manage and recover from stress and burnout in our article ‘Recovering from Caregiver Stress and Burnout’.

Types of Respite Care

If someone wants to take a carers’ break, there are many respite care options available. Which will be most suitable will depend on the needs of the caregiver and the person receiving the care. Respite care can be either a short term or long term arrangement. Short term respite care could be a one-off week long holiday. Or, the respite care may initially be intended as a one-off break but become a regular, long term occurrence. Types of respite care include the following:


Homecare refers to the help at home provided by a paid carer which can be arranged through an agency or directly with the carer. The carer may visit on a regular, long term basis, such as once a week. Alternatively, they may provide temporary support during a carers’ break to allow the usual carer to have some time to themselves, such as for a holiday.

Homecare is a flexible form of respite care. Depending on the needs of the person being cared for, paid carers may provide live-in care and 24-hour supervision. Some paid carers offer specialist nursing care, such as if the person they are caring for has dementia.

caregiver helping a man

Sitting Services

Sitting services are where a trained volunteer sits with someone who needs caring for and keeps them company. The volunteer is usually from, or trained by, a charity or carers’ organisations. The volunteer may stay for a few hours at a time and provide this service on a regular basis. Sitting services are often free of charge, or there may be a small fee.

Family and Friends

The friends and family of an unpaid carer or the person they are caring for may be able to help with respite care. They may be able to routinely spend a couple of hours with the person requiring care, or support a longer carers’ break by either moving into the home of the person being cared for or moving them into their home on a temporary basis.

Day Care Centres

Day care centres offer a supportive environment for people who struggle to socialise and participate in activities. They’re also referred to as day services. Different centres provide a range of opportunities such as arts and crafts, baking, dancing, singing, games, pottery, gardening, swimming and theatre trips. Alongside these activities, some day care centres offer personal care services including hairdressing and barbering.

A Short Stay in a Care Home or Nursing Home

Some care homes and nursing homes provide short term respite care. This arrangement would enable the caregiver to take a longer break, such as a holiday. Care providers would need to plan a stay well in advance, so this may not be an option if needed at short notice. Some care and nursing homes take bookings in advance which can help with forward planning.

If you want to arrange for the person you care for to temporarily stay in a care home or nursing home, you should reach out to those locally to find out if it’s a service they offer.

Respite Holidays

Respite holidays provide carers and the people they care for with a break from their every day routine. This gives caregivers and the person they care for the chance to relax and spend quality time together in a supportive environment. Some respite holidays are just for the person being cared for, where they will be looked after by other carers. Here, they have the opportunity to get involved in a range of activities alongside other people with a long term illness or disability.

Emergency Respite Care

If you are a caregiver, it’s important that there is someone nominated to contact if you are unable to get to the person needing care due to an accident or emergency. For example, if you suddenly need to receive medical attention. The person providing emergency respite care could be a relative, neighbour or friend. They would be responsible for looking after the person who is being cared for while alternative arrangements are made. 

The nominated person will need to be aware of key information including how to access the property and what type of care they will need to give. The NHS suggests keeping a clear written list of information about what care the person being looked after needs. This should include details on any mediation they will need to take and what assistance they will require.

Respite Caregiver Duties

The main goal of a respite caregiver is to temporarily relieve the responsibilities of the primary caregiver. The care they give will be similar to that given by the usual caregiver who is taking a break. As such, respite caregivers have a range of duties which will depend on the needs of the individual who needs to be cared for. Respite caregiver duties may include helping with: 

  • Washing, getting dressed or using the toilet. 
  • Cleaning, doing laundry or cooking.
  • Shopping for food or other items.
  • Administering medication.
  • Leaving their home and accompanying them on journeys, such as to appointments.
  • Providing emotional support, such as by keeping them company.
caregiver and elderly woman

These are just some examples of the care which a respite caregiver may deliver. Some individuals will require more assistance and may need to be monitored at all times, while others may be able to carry out some tasks independently. This is why it is essential that the care and additional support provided is person-centred and tailored to meet the needs of the individual.

How to Arrange Respite Care

If you need a break from caring, there are different ways you can arrange this, depending on what type of respite care you want. You can access respite care by contacting the service to arrange directly, going through your local council or arranging care through a charity or organisation. We will discuss funding for respite care services later.

Visits to day care centres, for example, are usually run by councils or local charities. You can find out which day care centres are local to you by contacting your local council or charities, including Sense and Age UK

To arrange homecare from a paid carer, you should contact your local council for further information if you are eligible for funded support, or you can arrange your own homecare by finding a local agency. Information on homecare services and providers can be found on the NHS website, through your local authority, on the Care Quality Commision (CQC) website and on the Homecare Association members’ website. You can then contact those which interest you and get more information to find out if they will be suitable.

For a temporary stay in a care or nursing home, you can discuss your needs and arrange a stay directly with a home of your choice. Have a look at the NHS website to find local care homes with nursing and local care homes without nursing.

You can contact some charities and organisations directly to arrange respite holidays, or to get financial support for them. The NHS lists the following on their website: MindforYou (the dementia holiday charity), Revitalise (a provider of respite breaks and holidays for disabled people and their carers), Family Fund (a grant-making charity for families raising a disabled or seriously ill child, on low income) and Family Holiday Charity (a charity providing breaks at holiday sites or grants to help with the cost of a holiday, for low-income families).
Sitting services are offered by various organisations and can be arranged directly with them. This includes Carers Trust, Age UK and Royal Voluntary Service.

Who Pays for Respite Care?

Respite care can be very expensive for the carer to cover themselves. The UK Care Guide estimates that respite care costs £700 to £800 a week on average. For live-in care or stays at a care home, this cost can reach £1,500 a week.

To help with this, most respite care is funded by local councils who provide it to those who have been assessed as needing it. In order to be eligible for funded respite care, carers should undergo a carer’s assessment, while the person they care for should have a needs assessment. It’s important that you both are assessed because your eligibility for financial help with respite care may be determined by either assessment. The financial support you are eligible for will be means-tested, which means that you or the person you care for might need to contribute towards the cost of respite care. It’s recommended that the person looked after has a needs assessment, even if they don’t want council funding. This is because the results of the assessment will indicate which type of respite care will be most suitable for their needs.

If the outcome of the assessments shows that the caregiver or the person they care for is eligible for respite care, the local council will then carry out a financial assessment to determine if they will pay towards it. If so, the council can either arrange respite care on their behalf, or the caregiver has the option to arrange it themselves through a personal budget or direct payment, paid for by the local council.

You may be able to access charity funding to help with the cost of respite care. The Carers Trust has useful information on their website about grants that are available to carers who need respite. Similarly, Turn2us can help you if you have a financial need to access welfare benefits, charitable grants and other financial help. The charity Disability Grants lists information on charities and trusts which offer grants to disabled people and their families and carers.

Caregivers and the person being cared for also have the option to pay for respite care themselves but, as mentioned, this can be very costly and simply isn’t an option for many people. You may be able to raise some of the funds through savings, benefits and income.

caregiver and man

Will a Carers’ Break Affect My Carer’s Allowance?

Caregivers are entitled to Carer’s Allowance as the main welfare benefit to financially support them and the person who they care for. If you take time away from your caring responsibilities, there are rules around the financial support you are entitled to. You can continue to receive your Carer’s Allowance for up to four weeks in any six-month period if you take a break from caring.

You are required to report certain changes to the care you give, including if you go on holiday, into hospital or stop providing at least 35 hours of care a week. You can do this online on the Carer’s Allowance Service, or by informing the Carer’s Allowance Unit by post or telephone. The Carers UK website provides useful information about your eligibility for Carer’s Allowance if you take a break from caring due to different circumstances.
The conditions of the Carer’s Allowance are complicated, so you should seek advice from the Carer’s Allowance Unit. They will be able to offer you advice based on your situation.

Though often rewarding, being a caregiver can be exhausting at times, particularly if you are unable to dedicate time to look after yourself. Carers’ breaks and respite care gives caregivers and the person they are looking after a much needed break and a chance to recharge. There are many different types of respite care available, with different ways to access these. When deciding which type, you must consider the needs of the person you care for as well as your own. Support is available to enable you to have some time to yourself and to return to your caregiving responsibilities feeling positive and refreshed.

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