Executive summary

Published May 2024

This research was conducted to investigate the circumstances of carers claiming Carer’s Allowance (CA), a benefit provided to individuals caring for someone else for at least 35 hours a week. It aimed to build on previous research commissioned by DWP and others by exploring how and why claimants claimed CA; their caring roles; experiences of combining paid work and care; and how well claimants understood the rules associated with CA. The research comprised a background research phase, a survey of 1,021 CA claimants and 60 in-depth interviews with CA claimants. The fieldwork was undertaken in 2020 and 2021, and the final report written in 2021. The report context, benefit rates and earnings rules therefore reflect those at the time of writing.

Key findings

Over half of claimants (54%) lived in lower income households (earning £20,799 per annum or less before deductions). They were most likely to have GCSEs or no formal qualifications as their highest qualification (53%), as well as poor health, with two in five (40%) having a long-term health condition.

Most claimants cared for close relatives, with two in five caring for a child (39%), a quarter caring for a spouse or partner (25%), and one in five (22%) caring for a parent.
Caring was a long-term and high intensity commitment. Half of claimants (52%) spent 65 or more hours caring per week and over half of all claimants (54%) had been caring for between 5 and 20 years. It could also be challenging and put strain on claimants, including by contributing to mental ill-health.

Before starting caring, half of claimants (52%) said they had always or mostly been in paid employment and just under half (45%) said they had been in and out, mostly out, or never in paid employment.

Only 16% of CA claimants were currently in paid work, while seven in ten (72%) were not in paid employment. Claimants in paid work tended to work part- time in lower paid jobs that they were able to fit around their caring responsibilities, with most (81%) working 20 hours or less a week.

Of those not currently in paid work, seven in ten (69%) said this was due to their responsibilities as a carer. Other barriers included a lack of flexible working options, claimants’ own health and confidence issues. The CA earnings threshold was one factor in a wider calculation about the value of work for claimants (particularly the number of hours those already employed could work), considered alongside caring responsibilities, potential earnings and the impact on their quality of life and well-being.

There was a lag between starting caring and claiming CA. While seven in ten claimants (70%) had been caring for 5+ years, only 3 in 10 (34%) had claimed CA for that length of time.

Claimants reported that receiving CA as a benefit was straightforward and they were content with the level and frequency of contact they had with DWP.

Very few claimants involved in this research (3%) had received an overpayment of CA. Those that had were not always able to explain how or why and some described a negative experience with DWP, suggesting there is some room for improvement with customer service and clarifying the rules and requirements of CA. The impact of an overpayment varied depending on the claimant’s financial situation and the amount to be repaid but did not seem to adversely impact the cared for person.

One in ten claimants (9%) did not have access to the internet and a substantial minority said they did not feel confident completing online forms (36%). This suggests that paper and telephone options remain valuable and additional support may be needed for certain customers, particularly for making claims. Claimants also had suggestions for ways that would make it easier for them to engage with DWP when they needed to, including an online portal or app, a call back service or sending queries by email.


Carer’s Allowance (CA), first introduced in 1976, is a benefit of £67.60 a week (2021/22 rates), provided to individuals who care for someone for at least 35 hours a week. CA is uprated annually in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and claimants in Scotland receive an additional supplement twice a year of £231.40.

Claimants must be 16 or over, have lived in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales for at least two of the last three years, not studying for 21 hours a week or more and their earnings must be £128 or less a week after allowable deductions. The cared-for person must be claiming one of the following benefits: Personal Independence Payment or Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Constant Attendance Allowance or Armed Forced Independence Payment.

Various research has been conducted into the experiences and circumstances of CA claimants. Research commissioned in 2011 by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) explored reasons why individuals claim CA and their experiences. It found that claimants struggled to find initial information about the benefit and that CA was a critical source of income and was primarily spent on daily necessities.

Further, it found that many carers stopped working when beginning caring due to the difficulty of adjusting work patterns to suit caring needs, and that long-term care had a particular impact on financial welfare. Additionally, in 2020 DWP published estimates of fraud and error levels in the benefit system in Great Britain in the financial year 2019 to 2020. This found that for Carer’s Allowance 5.2% were overpayments, with 3% due to fraud. There were no underpayments found.

Additionally, a Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into CA overpayments in 2020 heard evidence about claimants’ experience of overpayments. Failure to report a change in circumstances to DWP was the cause behind most detected overpayments, and letter communications were sometimes seen as insufficiently clear to allow claimants to comply. The Select Committee also heard testimony as to the negative emotional impact for carers when an overpayment is discovered and has to be recovered by DWP.

This research, commissioned by DWP, adds to previous findings, providing up to date information on these topics and further exploring specifically how CA interacts with paid work.

Research aims

There were four key research objectives that were explored in both the qualitative and quantitative research phases.

1. To understand how and why people claim CA.

2. To understand how the caring roles of CA claimants have evolved and changed.

3. To examine how well CA rules are communicated and understood.

4. To gather evidence of claimants’ experiences of combining paid work and care, and their experiences of employment support from DWP.

The research additionally sought to answer five key questions to meet the objectives:

1. What are the household circumstances of CA claimants?

2. What are the different claimant ‘journeys’ into caring and the receipt of CA – including their experience of interacting with other services and support agencies provided by the Authority?

3. What are CA claimants’ experiences of combining work and care?

4. What are claimants’ experiences of claiming CA – including awareness of the benefit, making the initial claim, reporting any changes of circumstance and the processes related to any overpayments?

5. How do the CA rules operate for those recipients in work or considering work?


The research involved four phases outlined below.

Phase 1: Policy immersion and scoping
The scoping phase involved reviewing existing knowledge about CA to inform subsequent phases and ensure they were reflective of political and social contexts. It included policy briefing sessions with DWP and a rapid evidence review of key literature, covering relevant research documents, carers charity webpages and Work and Pension committee reports. Three stakeholder interviews were also carried out with Carers UK, Carers Resource and Professor Sue Yeandle.

Phase 2: Qualitative interviews with claimants
Kantar conducted telephone interviews with 18 CA claimants in August 2020. Respondents were recruited through free-find techniques by specialised in-house recruiters, and recruitment quotas were set to ensure a range of demographic characteristics and views were included. Quotas were set for: gender, age, ethnicity, region, working status, length of time in employment, previous work status, caring intensity, length of time caring, who the cared for person is, if reported change of circumstance and if reported overpayment. See appendix 1 for achieved sample.

Interviews were an hour long and covered:

Personal circumstances and impacts of Covid-19 on caring and work responsibilities.
Journey mapping of caring responsibilities, working history, and experiences of CA (including any pain points).
Support they would like to receive from DWP and perceptions of CA.
Qualitative research was split into two phases, with the first phase designed to produce emerging findings in summer 2020 and inform DWP’s November budget. Respondents were able to redeem £40 in cash to thank them for their time.

Phase 3: Quantitative claimant survey
Kantar carried out a survey of 1021 respondents, using a DWP-supplied sample of CA claimants under State Pension age (16-64 years old). The research team ran a pilot between 20th October – 31st October 2020, and the mainstage research took place between 5th January – 12th February 2021. The sample provided by DWP included contact information along with additional demographic data that was used in analysis, such as age and gender.

The survey gathered information on:

claimants’ household circumstances and personal demographics
caring responsibilities
current and past experiences of paid employment
experiences of claiming CA
internet access, and personal use and confidence using the internet
if they were happy to be re-contacted to participate further qualitative interviews
Kantar conducted cognitive testing before the fieldwork to test clarity and suitability of questions and response options. Interviews were 60 minutes long and conducted over telephone with 10 CA claimants in September 2020. To ensure respondents with a range of views and experiences were interviewed, six respondents recruited were in paid employment, four were not in paid employment, six had reported a change of circumstances to DWP, and two had experienced overpayment.

Participants were contacted by letter, which provided a link to the online survey. If the survey had not been completed, respondents would receive two reminder letters. In the mainstage a paper questionnaire was included in the 2nd reminder letter to boost response rate, improve accessibility of the survey and ensure the views of those with low internet access were gathered. Respondents could redeem a £5 voucher having completed the survey.

The survey gained an overall response rate of 23.4% by online and paper questionnaire. All data was weighted by the ONS Labour Force Survey (July – September 2020) to be representative of CA claimants aged 18-64 in Great Britain.

Phase 4: Qualitative interviews with claimants
A final phase of 42 qualitative in-depth interviews took place following completion of the survey. Participants were recruited from the re-contact sample from the survey by specialist in-house recruiters. Fieldwork took place in February and March 2021 and interviews covered the same topics explored in phase 2.