Access to regular, high-quality respite care has a beneficial impact on a carer’s ability to fulfil their caring role, but provision varies widely. The current study aims to report family and informal carers’ perceptions of respite care services offered to them by their local authority. A mixed method, triangulated design, yielded both quantitative and qualitative data. Members of a parent/carer federation were sent a questionnaire which included a section on ‘respite care’; 151 of 647 responded. Two focus groups were held with 15 carers who had previously completed the questionnaire. The majority of carers reported that their respite needs were not being met. Unmet needs were hampered by the lack of information regarding criteria for access to respite. Discrepancies were evident between professionals and carers on a shared definition of respite care. Carers were unsure of exactly which activities constituted respite care and for whom the service was being provided.