Hundreds of thousands of hidden carers are missing out on benefits worth thousands of pounds a year.

Many on low incomes who care for loved ones or friends are entitled to over £3,000 a year in the carer's allowance alone, plus the fact they're in that position may trigger eligibility for other benefits.

There are approximately six million carers in the UK. However, huge numbers don't claim.

Benefits charity Elizabeth Finn Care estimates 300,000 people who are eligible do not claim carer's allowance.

Other non-financial support is also sometimes available from local authorities and charities to those who ask for help.

Cancer charity Macmillan says over a million people caring for someone with cancer miss out on vital support, which may go beyond straightforward state handouts.

The role of carers was highlighted last week during Carers Week, a partnership of eight charities which raises awareness of carers' roles and their entitlements.

How to spot a hidden carer

Many just see it as helping out family or friends.

Caring can mean getting someone dressed, turning them in their sleep, helping them to the loo, helping them move about or administering their medication.

Carers also help with shopping, laundry, cleaning, cooking, filling in forms and managing money.

You could be eligible for £1,000s in benefits

The main benefit available is to carers is the carer's allowance. Whether you qualify or not, if you're on a low income, your circumstances mean you could be entitled to other benefits.

Typically, these will include:

  • Income-based jobseeker's allowance
  • Income-related employment and support allowance
  • Income support
  • Pension credit
  • Housing benefit
  • Council tax benefit

Be aware that if you claim for carer's allowance, it may reduce your entitlement to other benefits. This doesn't mean you'll get less overall, you may just not get the full entitlement to all benefits you're eligible for.

For a proper assessment, see our Benefits Check-Up guide.

Are you eligible for carer's allowance?

To be entitled, you must:

  • Be 16 or over
  • Spend at least 35 hours a week caring for someone
  • Earn £100 a week or less after tax and job-related expenses
  • Not be a full-time student with 21 or more hours a week of supervised study.

In addition, the person you're caring for must get one of the following benefits:

  • Attendance allowance
  • Disability living allowance (at the middle or highest rate for personal care)
  • Constant attendance allowance at or above the normal maximum rate with an industrial injuries disablement benefit
  • Constant attendance allowance at the basic (full day) rate with a war disablement pension

Of course, if they are not getting what they are entitled to, you could help them to claim.

There are a few more caveats:

  • If someone else is also looking after the same person, only one of you can get carer's allowance.
  • Carer's allowance can only be paid for caring for one person.
  • Carer's allowance can be claimed by more than one person in a household, such as a couple caring for each other.
  • The amount of carer's allowance you can get is not affected by any savings you have.

How much do you get?

The weekly rate is £58.45.

How far back can you claim?

For carer's allowance, you are limited to claiming just three months of back payments.

How to claim

In England, Scotland and Wales, you can ask for a claim form by phone, by contacting the Carer's Allowance Unit or your local Jobcentre Plus office. See Directgov for contact details. You can also apply online via this claim form.

In Northern Ireland, go to NI Direct.

Effect on state pensions

For each week you receive carer's allowance, you will normally get a national insurance (NI) contribution added to your NI record which can mean you build up a larger state pension.

So this is another important reason to claim.

In fact, you don't need to be eligible for carer's allowance to get an NI credit.

Anyone looking after someone for more than 20 hours a week unpaid can qualify for a carer's credit, which will count towards their entitlement for the state pension.

Non-financial help

In addition to carer's allowance, you could also be entitled to other help from charities, GPs and local authorities. For full information on other support available, see the Carers Week website. Here's a taster:

  • Practical help. Speak to your council or a charity. They may be able to provide practical support, such as equipment to help you lift the person you care for; an alarm system; someone to sit with the person you care for while you go out; or a more substantial break where the person you care for goes into residential care. See the Carers Week website for more info.

  • Time off caring. If you need a break from caring for your health reasons, speak to your GP. There's a budget to provide a temporary carer so you can take time off. Some charities also provide help to pay for a holiday for carers and patients. See the Carers Week website for more info.

  • Advice. Many charities offer a range of services including carers' centres, online discussion forums and advice services. See the Carers Week website for more info.

  • Grants. You may entitled to extra cash. See the Turn2us grant search.