How carers can get government help for free

Looking after a family member or friend and need time off for you or them? A national network can assist.

Back in the day when we could travel freely, I had booked and paid for a weekend getaway interstate. My mother was recovering from a routine operation in hospital and doing well. She was doing so well that the hospital decided to discharge her earlier than planned.

It may sound selfish, but I didn’t feel like cancelling my well-planned weekend. Nor did she want me to miss the time away.

It was early on a Friday afternoon when she returned to her home where she lives alone. She was well enough to not require the care of 24/7 nursing but, with strict instructions to keep her leg up, she needed some help to prepare a couple of meals and get going in the mornings.

As a registered carer for my mother with Carers ACT, I was able to engage a qualified carer to visit my mother in her home to assist with a number of tasks starting that Friday evening, including preparing her a meal. The carer was able to return the next day to help get her up and going with some breakfast, come back for the Saturday night meal and back again for the Sunday morning before I returned.

I was asked to pay $50 for the weekend service (those who can’t afford it don’t need to pay). It was a great introduction to a national, widely accessible organisation whose role is to look after carers.

Emergency respite is one of hundreds of mostly free services available to informal or unpaid carers who are registered through the government-funded Carers Gateway and are looking after someone with a disability, chronic or life-limiting illness or someone who is frail aged, has a mental health illness, alcohol- or other drug-related issue. It’s not a requirement for the carer to share living arrangements.

The gateway is a relatively new concept aimed at unifying the information and advice on the supports available to informal carers across Australia.

How it works

Recognising that if you need help you need it quickly, registering as a carer with Carers Gateway involves completing a relatively simple assessment online or by phone (1800 422 737).

Your information will then be shared with one of 16 gateway providers around the country who assist with the delivery of the support needed by carers, including counselling, practical help or skills training.

Carers ACT is one of the national provider organisations supporting an often hidden labour force of young and old carers who in 2020, according to Deloitte, provided 2.2 billion hours of unpaid care to the value of $77.9 billion.

With extensive lockdowns across the country and the cancellation of in-home services or closure of community-based services, the number of people at home caring for the less able or vulnerable must have grown beyond the official figure of 2.65 million.

With more time being spent at home or checking in on others via phone or the internet, the pandemic has thrown numerous partners and family members into far greater and more stressful caring roles than in previous years.

More support

Caring for someone living with dementia can be particularly challenging without additional support.

Research released this week by Dementia Australia highlights that COVID-19 has intensified the discrimination experienced by people living with dementia and their carers.

Whether it is being treated differently, being patronised or feelings of being alone as former friends no longer keep in touch, the experience of discrimination is exacerbating the known effects of social isolation, loneliness and poor mental health.

Discriminatory behaviour affects all aspects of a person’s life – from the way they engage socially to the types of services they access and receive and the way their human rights are interpreted, says Dementia Australia chief executive Maree McCabe, who’d like more people to understand what living with dementia can be like.

Extra stress

Liz Callaghan, chief executive of the carers advocacy group Carers Australia, says the government has recognised the extra stress the pandemic has placed on carers who could be our partners, children brothers, sisters and friends.

The assessment process through the gateway has been expedited, financial assistance has been made available and carers have been prioritised for vaccination against COVID-19, she says.

Respite care is a widely sought after solution to give carers and those being cared for a break.

It might be through someone coming into a person’s home regularly – specifically to give the carer a chance to do something for themselves or for the person who needs help a regular chance to go somewhere else for a day, weekend or a couple of weeks.

Options for places to go can include dedicated government-approved and private respite facilities as well as aged care facilities.

If you have been assessed by the Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT) as being eligible for respite care, you are entitled to up to 63 days a year in an approved facility at a subsidised rate. It costs a set fee based on the basic care fee, which is currently $53.56 a day and covers everything from accommodation costs and meals to 24/7 care.

Carers Australia state and territory-based member organisations also have a range of residential and non-residential respite options, which can be accessed on an ad hoc or regular basis.

Recognising that respite services can improve carer well-being, maintain the care relationship and avoid crises that may jeopardise the relationship between the carer and the person in their care, the government this year announced increased funding across several respite services.

In the lead up to National Carers Week starting October 10, Callaghan would like to see proper recognition for the millions of “unsung hidden heroes” who often deal with a lot more than they are ever given credit for.

Even if their love and the care they provide are unconditional, everybody deserves a break.