Summary: Social work practice is increasingly concerned with support not just for service users but also for unpaid carers. A key aspect of practice is the assessment of carers’ needs. The Government has recently passed legislation that will widen eligibility for carers’ assessments and remove the requirement that carers must be providing a substantial amount of care on a regular basis. This article examines which carers are currently ‘visible’ or known to councils and which are not, and uses the results to examine the likely effects of the new legislation. In order to identify the characteristics of carers known to councils, the article uses large-scale surveys, comparing the 2009/10 Personal Social Services Survey of Adult Carers in England and the 2009/10 Survey of Carers in Households in England.
Findings: Carers who are known to councils provide extremely long hours of care. Among carers providing substantial care who are known to councils, the majority care for 100 or more hours a week. The focus of councils on carers providing long hours of care is associated with a number of other carer characteristics, such as poor health.
Applications: Councils' emphasis on the most intense carers is unlikely to be attributable solely to the current legislation. Therefore, dropping the substantial and regular clauses alone will not necessarily broaden access to carers' assessments and, in order to achieve this, considerable new resources may be needed. How far these resources are available will determine the extent to which practitioners can broaden access to carers' assessments.