The main income supports for carers provided by my Department include carer’s allowance, carer's benefit, domiciliary care allowance and the carer's support grant. Spending on these payments in 2019 is expected to exceed €1.2 billion.
Carer’s allowance is a means-tested payment for people living in Ireland who are looking after somebody who needs support because of age, physical or learning disability or illness, including mental illness. It is a condition for receipt of carer’s allowance that the carer must be providing full-time care and attention for a person who requires such full-time care and attention because of a specified illness or disability. This condition is moderated by legislation allowing the carer to work or engage in training outside the home for an aggregate total of 15 hours per week.
In setting the relevant working hours thresholds, it is appropriate to balance the needs of the carer and the person to whom care is being provided. The current limit of 15 hours, when it was set, was considered to represent a reasonable balance between meeting the care recipient's requirement for full-time care and the carer's need to maintain contact with the workforce. The threshold was also set taking account of the generous income disregard available under the carer's allowance scheme. The level of the income disregard at €332.50 is such that a person could, if an hours limit was not applied, qualify for the full carer's payment while working up to about 35 hours per week. This would create obvious difficulties in ensuring that full-time care and attention were being provided.
The question of increasing the limit to 18.5 hours has recently been raised with my Department by carers' representative groups. Any change to qualifying criteria would have to be considered in the context of the issues just outlined and also in an overall budgetary context.