On 1 April this year, Scotland took a major step towards extending and enhancing the rights of unpaid carers with the introduction of the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016. This comes at a time when there is increasing pressure on health and social care services, and greater reliance on those who take on caring responsibilities. There are an estimated 788,000 people in Scotland who are caring for a relative, friend or neighbour. This includes 44,000 who are under the age of 18. The value of care they provide is placed in the region of £10.8 billion. The Act aims to ensure that carers are supported more consistently, so they can continue to care if they wish, and are able to do so in good health and with a life alongside their caring responsibilities. To do this, the Act sets out a number of key measures, outlined briefly below.

Carers have the right to be offered – or to request – an Adult Carer Support Plan (ACSP) or Young Carer Statement (YCS). This document will set out what outcomes the carer wants to achieve, and what support they need to be able to do so.

Local authorities have a duty to provide support to carers whose support needs meet the eligibility criteria set locally. Local authorities also have a duty to establish an information and advice service for carers which will be available to everyone. This can be accessed by any carer, even if they have not been identified as having needs that require formal support.

In terms of short breaks or respite services, the Act outlines that local authorities must publish and review a Short Breaks Services Statement. This will contain information to help carers know what support is available locally and nationally to help them have a break from their caring.  There is also a requirement for local authorities to consider whether support to a carer should take the form of a break from caring, and to consider whether breaks from caring should be provided on a planned basis.

Hospital discharge is also covered by the Act.  Health boards have a duty to inform the carer and to invite their views, which must be taken into account, before a cared-for person is discharged from hospital.

Finally, the views of carers are also to be considered in the planning and evaluation of services that support carers, including local carer strategies, as there is a duty for local authorities and health boards to ‘take such steps as they consider appropriate’ to involve carers and carer representatives.

For more information, visit the Scottish Government’s Carers Charter.