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Market shaping – adult carers

The Care Act sets out market shaping duties to ensure a diverse, high-quality market from which local people can choose. This should be based on locally identified needs, demographics, trends and aspirations. The statutory guidance expects local authorities to use ‘a wide range of approaches to meets the needs of all people in their area who need care and support, whether arranged or funded by the state, by the individual themselves, or in other ways’. Local authorities need to ensure a variety of different service providers, including a variety of types of provider, and should always encourage innovation.

Rigid procurement approaches should not drive the agenda or obstruct the development of new, flexible choice-based provision.

The practice examples set out the richness and variety of approaches to breaks across England. A good approach to market shaping will include the following.

  • Ensuring a genuine choice of breaks – a wide range of provision and types of provision available at different times. This may include residential respite, sitting services, through to holidays and support for shared activities. This range needs to address equalities and specific needs that may require particular approaches.
  • Ensuring a sustainable market for breaks – moving beyond pilots and having contracts (where appropriate) and meaningful monitoring (including by carers) that facilitate wellbeing outcomes. Sustainability planning will need to address challenges in remote rural areas to ensure the viability of low volume services.
  • An inclusive approach that checks that the market is responsive to the identified needs of different carer groups and communities.
  • Investing in quality and developing what works. This may include encouraging quality providers to diversify to offer breaks. Staff skills and experience are key to quality so linking providers with workforce development plans to collaborate on training – including by carers – can help.  
  • Articulating to providers the likely demand and the types of services that people say they want, and a shared local understanding ‘what good looks like’.
  • Ensuring carers (including self-funders and direct payment users) are aware of what is available and how much it costs.
  • Fostering a climate that facilitates the development of flexible services that are truly personalised and strengths-based. This includes whole family and integrated approaches building on community assets and local business opportunities.
  • Facilitating innovation, social enterprise and community-based models such as Shared Lives. Small charities and social enterprises may be put off by formal tendering processes but be able to offer tailored, innovative support. There are many ways that services can be engaged and funded. Commissioners should not limit choice by inappropriately applying rigid procurement approaches.
  • Supporting carers’ organisations or direct payment organisations that can help carers to develop and organise individualised breaks.
  • Getting on with it! Not delaying progressing support for what clearly works.
  • Decommissioning services where there is not the need or demand or the service is unable to adapt to what is needed.

Delivering choice

There is no ‘one size fits all’ carers’ breaks service. To meet diverse needs and preferences, areas need a range of options which could include a combination of more traditional services such as regular sitting service together with more creative options such as a relationship-centred short break for the carer and the person they care for to enjoy shared activities. The practice examples and table below set out a range of models of breaks and approaches.

Types of carers’ breaks

Below we set out some of the many ways of taking a break. This list is in no way exhaustive.

Short breaks in residential or nursing care

The person who is cared for stays overnight in a care home or nursing home.

Complex needs and specialist support – accommodation-based breaks

Short breaks away from home for the person who is cared for. Services may have skills in supporting people with particular health conditions, or enabling people with learning disabilities or complex behaviours to gain independent living skills, for example. Services may offer wider support to the family enabling shared visits and peer support.


There are numerous types of holiday: for the carer while the person is cared for at home or a residential setting; a supported holiday for the person who requires care; a shared holiday for the carer and the person they care for or a family holiday, but with support available for the caring tasks.

Support to care for the person at home

Support workers or personal assistants care for the person at home while the carer has a break. Sometimes called replacement care or a sitting service, this could be for a few hours on a regular basis, for occasional breaks or for longer periods while the carer goes away for a holiday, to visit family etc.

Befriending services / buddy schemes

A volunteer spends time with the person with care and support needs. This enables the carer to take a break, to go out and do something they want to do. Matching can based on shared interests, or around cultural identity, for example. This could be in the person’s home – having a coffee and a chat, or out and about – visiting galleries, going to the match for example.

Shared Lives

Support is offered through Shared Lives carers who share their own homes and family life. Short breaks can be anything from a few hours a day on a regular basis to overnight stays for an agreed length of time.

Short breaks based on activities of interest to the person

Activities outside the home on a regular basis such as walks, cinema, sports, fitness and social groups. This offers the person who is cared for the chance to make social links, stay connected with faith groups, learn new skills or share peer support such as through mental health walks.

Short breaks based on activities of interest to the carer

Some carers may want to take breaks where they link with other carers. This may be around skills or employment training, peer support, regular coffee mornings or lunches, fun activities and socials. Other carers will have things that they want to do during the breaks that are important to them.


Hospitality and leisure services offer complimentary breaks or offers for carers and usually a guest too. The offer may include restaurants, theatres, hotels, universities, leisure and tourism, football clubs.

Hospice stays

Breaks at end of life or for people with life-limiting conditions. Hospices often offer wrap-around support and advice for the person and their family.

Holistic breaks service

A holistic breaks service will usually offer, or help to organise a wide variety of breaks and coordinated support. This could include outreach, overnight support, residential stays, emergency back-up arrangements as well as leisure trips and holidays.

Social prescriptions

A GP or primary care professional refers to community-based support. This could be a break or support to design a break and make it happen.

Emergency breaks

Ideally breaks are planned, but knowing there is access to a break in case of emergency or crisis can be reassuring and also avoid the person who is cared for going in to unfamiliar residential care, for example.

Direct payments and carers’ personal budgets

The person with care needs and the carer can use direct payments (if eligible) to plan breaks that work for them. Carers’ personal budgets (whilst not for the cost of replacement care) could be used for the cost of a course, driving lessons, towards the cost of time away and so on.

Support to organise breaks

Having help to organise breaks is really important for many carers. Some carers organisations do this as part of their wider support and advice services. Finding out from other carers how they get a break is also important.

Opportunities for people not eligible for council budgets

There are a range of grants or schemes targeted at people who don’t receive other help.

Day services / day opportunities

Day services can offer a break during the day to many carers. Day services may also offer extended services at weekends or evenings, or organise holidays and trips.

Young adult carers

Services targeted at young adult carers may offer support for breaks, holidays, events – either individually or bringing young carers together. See our carers’ breaks for young carers and young adult carers guide.

Getting help with other tasks

Support for a range of tasks, such as around the home or with childcare, so the carer can spend more quality time with the person they care for.

Support from family and friends

Friends and family often provide the support that enables a carer to take a break. Services that support wider family to be confident to do this, perhaps through training, and services that provide emotional support to enable carers to accept help, are important in helping carers get the breaks they need.


For some carers (though not all), access to technology that helps keep the person safe, or provides back up support if needed, can provide the reassurance they need to take a break.

Practice examples