Up to 200,000 people are putting their state pension in jeopardy by not claiming carer's credit – a benefit that plugs gaps in your national insurance record when you're not able to work because you're caring for someone.

Carer's credit is not a typical benefit, as you don't receive any money for it. However it's important to claim otherwise your state pension could be negatively impacted.

  • Carer's credit is a national insurance 'credit' designed to fill any gaps you have in your national insurance record (eg, from having to give up your job to care for someone).
  • It's this record that determines if you've worked enough to earn the state pension and it can also determine your eligibility for things like bereavement benefits.
  • You could get it if you care for someone for at least 20 hours a week.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) estimates that up to 200,000 eligible people are not claiming it.

How is it different to carer's allowance?

Carer's allowance is a totally separate benefit to carer's credit – it's worth up to £62.10 per week.

  • To qualify, you must care for someone for at least 35 hours a week although you don't have to be related to or live with them (see full eligibility criteria).
  • If you're eligible for and receive carer's allowance you'll automatically get carer's allowance credit, which works in the same way as carer's credit – so there's no need to worry about claiming for carer's credit too.

How to apply for carer's credit (you should apply even if not sure you're eligible)

We're going to explain how to apply and who's definitely eligible shortly, but if you don't get carer's allowance and you do care for someone then apply.

There's no harm in applying if you're unsure whether you're eligible, as the worst that'll happen is your application gets rejected.

The application process is straightforward: you can either download a carer's credit application form or call 0345 608 4321 to get a form. You then need to fill it in and post it to the Government's carer's allowance unit.

Your application must be received before the end of the tax year following the tax year to which the credits relate. This means a claim for the 2015/16 tax year must be made by 5 April 2017.

How will I know if I could be eligible for carer's credit?

To get carer's credit you must fulfil the following criteria (though if you're unsure on anything just give the carer's allowance unit a call on 0345 608 4321):

  • You must be aged between 16 and state pension age

  • You must be looking after one or more people for at least 20 hours per week. You don't get more 'credits' if you're looking after more than one person.

  • The person you're caring for must also be a recipient of at least one of the following benefits: disability living allowance (care component at the middle or highest rate), attendance allowance, constant attendance allowance, personal independence payment (the daily living component at the standard or enhanced rate) or the armed forces independence payment.

  • If the person you're caring for doesn't receive one of these benefits, you could still be eligible for carer's credit – but you'll have to get a health or social care professional to sign part of the application form to verify it.

  • You can also still get carer's credit even if you have breaks from caring (up to 12 weeks in a row), such as if you take a holiday, you go into hospital or the person you're caring for goes into hospital.

  • In a bizarre twist, it's possible for two people fulfilling the criteria above to be eligible for carer's credit by caring for each other.

Can I claim carer's credit for previous years?

You can go back one year – which means a claim made by 5 April 2017 could go back as far as beginning of the 2015/16 tax year. You can also claim even if the person you were caring for has since died or no longer needs caring for.

In these situations it's best to contact the carer's allowance unit directly on 0345 608 4321.

Is there any more help out there for carers?

The Care Act 2014, which came into force in April 2015, sets out carers' legal rights. Part of it includes giving carers a right to request a 'carer's assessment' from their local authority.

This assessment will be carried out by a professional from your local council who will work out how being a carer affects your life and assess what the council can do to help that.

Young carers (aged under 18) can also apply for an assessment. For more information, see guidance from the Carers Trust and the NHS.

For help and support, carers in England can also call the NHS Carers Direct helpline on 0300 123 1053.

Update Tuesday 7 June: The Department for Work and Pensions initially provided us with incorrect information regarding backdated claims. Claims can only go back one year. A previous version of this story stated claims could go back four years.