Up to 230,000 unpaid carers 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 it – otherwise your state pension could be negatively impacted.

  • Carer's credit is a national insurance 'credit' designed to fill gaps 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.
  • You could get it if you care for someone for at least 20 hours a week.

According to new figures from the Department for Work and Pensions, it's estimated up to 250,000 carers are eligible to claim carer's credit – but just 20,000 are actually doing so.

Charity Carers UK puts the total number of unpaid carers in the UK at 6.5 million – if you're one of those and think you could be eligible for carer's credit, it's important to check now if you can claim.

Heléna Herklots, Carers UK chief executive, told us: "When people take on a caring role for a loved one, they can face serious financial hardship. Many carers see a steep drop in income if they have to leave work or reduce their hours to care.

"It is vital that carers are able to protect their state pension entitlement and don't suffer an ongoing impact from reducing hours or leaving work to care."

Eligible for carer's credit? Don't put your state pension at risk by not claiming it

How is carer's credit different from carer's allowance?

Carer's allowance, worth up to £62.70 a week, is a totally separate benefit to carer's credit.

  • To qualify for carer's allowance, you must care for someone for at least 35 hours a week although you don't have to be related 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 (Not sure if you're eligible? Still apply)

We explain how to check if you're eligible for carer's credit below. But in short, if you don't get carer's allowance and you do care for someone then apply anyway.

There's no harm in doing so if you're unsure whether you're eligible – the worst that'll happen is your application will be rejected.

The application process is straightforward: you can download a carer's credit application form or call 0345 608 4321 to get one. 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 2016/17 tax year (the last tax year) must be made by 5 April 2018.

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

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

  • You must be aged between 16 and state pension age.

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

  • The person you're caring for must also receive at least one of these 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 the application form to verify it.

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

  • Bizarrely, 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?

Yes – you can go back one year, which means a claim made by 5 April 2018 could go back as far as the beginning of the 2016/17 tax year. You can also claim retrospectively 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 on 0345 608 4321.

What other help is there for carers?

This week is Carers' Week – an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring and the challenges faced by 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 is carried out by a professional from your 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. For other parts of the UK (although it covers England too), Carers UK has a free advice line on 0808 808 7777.