- An informal carer is someone who helps an older person or people with their daily needs and activities, from high-dependency to low-dependency tasks
- Becoming an informal carer can happen gradually as a person ages, or suddenly following a health crisis such as a heart attack or an accident
- Many informal carers do not recognise themselves as carers as you do not need to live with the person you care for, nor do you need to receive the Carer Payment or Allowance from Centrelink
An informal carer is someone who provides care and support to someone close to them, often a family member or friend.
These types of carers are often defined as an individual going above and beyond what a normal relationship would require of a person.
The Australian Government recognises this, emphasising the importance of their role in the aged care industry through the Carer Recognition Act 2010.
There are 2.65 million carers in Australia, which makes up 11 percent of the Australian population. Additionally, informal carers save the Australian economy a lot of money, an estimated $77.9 billion in 2020.
Informal carers can assist with a variety of personal care, health care, transport, administrative support, cognitive and emotional tasks, household tasks and leisure activities.
Generally, informal carers do not get paid for the care or support they provide, but some informal carers may be eligible for benefits from the Government.
While each caring situation is different, many carers share similar experiences.
Some people don’t even know that they are considered an informal carer!
So, what is an informal carer?
The informal carer role
Every care situation is different.
The scope of what you will do as an informal carer will differ from day-to-day, but, generally, carers help older people with daily needs and activities.
This can range from high-dependency tasks, like feeding and dressing, to low-dependency assistance, like transportation or going shopping.
Older people who are more independent may just need someone to keep an eye on them or help them with life tasks like banking and housework.
While most informal carers oversee an older person’s health and wellbeing needs and assist them to be as independent as possible, they can also provide comfort, encouragement and reassurance to the person they care for.
You can read more about being an informal carer at home in our article, ‘Informal home care from family and friends’.
How do you become carers?
You do not need to receive financial aid to be classified as a carer or have any specific qualifications to be an informal carer, with some people not recognising themselves as carers.
Becoming an informal carer happens gradually by helping an older person in your life out more and more as their health and independence deteriorates, but it can also happen suddenly following a health crisis such as a heart attack or an accident.
This older person could be your mother or father, your brother or sister, or your own partner. And these relationships with your older loved one can chance when you take on that carer role.
Additionally, to be an informal carer, you do not need to live with the person you care for or be the main source of care and support, nor do you need to receive the Carer Payment or Allowance from Centrelink.
Sometimes, as a carer, you may need to take time off work to assist your older person with different tasks and care – this may mean you have a reduction in your weekly income.
Luckily, the Government has financial supports in place to ensure you are able to receive an adequate income while taking care of a frail person.
While you do not need to receive financial support to be considered a carer, you may decide to utilise Government carers support payments to help get by.
There are a couple different payments you may be eligible, including the Carer Payment and the Carer Allowance.
The Carer Payment through Centrelink can provide you with income support if you are unable to work because of the demands of your caring role.
To be eligible for the Carer Payment, you need to be providing full time care to an older person over an extended period of time.
While you do not have to live with the person you care for, you need to live within a reasonable distance and provide ‘constant’ care, usually the equivalent of a full day’s work.
You, your employed spouse or partner (if you have one) and the person you care for must all meet the income and assets test for the payment.
Centrelink can be flexible about some of the eligibility rules, particularly if the person you care for has high care needs or if you care for more than one person, so you can contact them to discuss your situation.
The Carer Allowance is a fortnightly sum to assist with the additional costs of caring on top of an older person’s usual costs of daily living.
You and the person you care for are subject to an income test to receive this allowance, but the income test does not impact much of the allowance they receive.
To also be eligible for this money, you must be caring for an older person whose care needs score is high enough on the adult assessment tools, and someone who will need to have these needs met for at least 12 months.
Taking ‘you’ time
Being an informal carer can be exhausting and long caring periods without a break can result in carer burnout, which is why it is important to consider how short term respite care can help.
Respite care for an older person can be for as little as a few hours or can be several days or weeks. This provides you the opportunity to have a break from your caring duties, while ensuring the person you usually care for is receiving the support and care they need.
Respite care can be accessed through respite accommodation at an aged care facility, it can be delivered at home, or in a community setting. You can learn more about the different types of respite care in our article, ‘What types of respite care are there?‘
When an older person goes into respite care, you as a carer then have time to recover from that burnout, to engage in your hobbies, attend appointments or catch up with daily tasks.
You can read more about how short term respite care works and carer burnout in our article, ‘Benefits of short term respite care’.
Looking after yourself as an informal carer
If you’re a carer, it’s important you take some time to look after your own health and wellbeing because it will help you in your caring role.
There are many support groups available for informal carers.
Carers Australia represents Australia’s unpaid carers, and advocates on their behalf to influence policies and services at a national level. Contact them on (02) 6122 9900, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their website.
Are you an informal carer? If so, how have you found being one? Let us know in the comments below.