BRIXTON LEGAL: Help for people who have dementia and their carers

Pam Douglas is a solicitor with local firm Wainwright and Cummins. Each month, her column takes a common legal issue and explains it for readers

photo of two hands together to illustrate carer support

Dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease) has been called the “21st century’s silent epidemic”. It typically affects people aged over 65 and, as we live longer, more and more people experience symptoms. It is thought to affect around 850,000 in the UK currently, with that number set to rise to 1 million by 2025.

Such long-term debilitating health conditions can often result in financial struggles, not just for the person who is unwell, but also for their support network.

According to recent research, 600 people a day in the UK give up work to care for elderly or disabled loved ones. As council services continue to be slashed, this is likely to become even more commonplace.

As someone who is caring for a parent with dementia, I thought I’d share some of what I have learned about the financial assistance that is available. I hope you find it helpful:

Under the Local Government Finance Act 1992, if you live alone and suffer from dementia and currently pay council tax, you can apply for an exemption from the local authority, as it’s classed as a “severe mental impairment”.

What’s more if you share your home with someone else who does not meet the criteria, you could still receive a 25% discount. Your claim for an exemption or discount can sometimes be back-dated, entitling you to a refund for past years, which can add up to a significant lump sum.

Under the Council Tax (Exempt Dwellings) Order 1992, if you have to leave your home empty (furnished or unfurnished) in order to care for a loved one elsewhere, you can apply for a discount on your council tax bill. This is referred to as a “class J exemption” which could entitle you to a discount of 50%. However, please note that, in Lambeth, if you leave your property empty for more than two years, you could be liable to pay a 100% premium, or double the normal rate, so do be careful.

If you are over 65, you might be eligible for Attendance Allowance if you need extra help around your home. Currently the allowance is £57.30 per week if you need assistance during the day and £85.60 per week if you need help both during the day and at night. It’s not means tested and will not affect any other benefits you might be receiving. The money can be used for anything that makes your day-to-day life easier, for example, help with gardening, travel to GP appointments or paying for a cleaner.

If you receive the higher rate of Attendance Allowance, you could be also eligible for Transport for London’s Taxicard service, which offers significant savings on journeys for members, as well as driver assistance for those whose mobility is affected.

If you care for someone for at least 35 hours a week and earn a net weekly salary of no more than £120 per week, you could be entitled to Carer’s Allowance of up to £64.60 per week. The person you care for must be in receipt of one of six qualifying benefits, which includes Attendance Allowance.

It might also be worth applying for Pension Credit as an award could automatically “passport” you to other benefits, grants and savings to help ease financial pressures, such as the low-cost telephone service offered by BT, called BT Basic.

Homeowners could also qualify for a government-funded central heating boiler replacement grant.

Apart from financial assistance, there are many other services available, including help with home adaptations, security, and safety equipment, according to individual needs.

For further information about help that might be available, I recommend that you contact Age UK. I have found them to be invaluable in offering advice and support. In some cases, they can arrange for assessments and make applications on your behalf. You can call them on 020 7346 6800 or email them at