Implementing the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004

SCIE Guide 9

Published October 2005

Updated August 2007

About this guide


Around six million people in the UK provide care for a relative, friend or neighbour in need of support on an unpaid basis. The lives of carers are varied, but many people share similar concerns and experiences. Many carers try to juggle care with paid work and some care for more than one person.

The government has increasingly recognised the contribution that carers make to society and has passed legislation that acknowledges their needs and entitles them to an assessment and services in their own right (1, 2). In 2004, the government introduced the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004. The Act seeks to ensure that carers are identified and informed of their rights, that their needs for education, training, employment and leisure are taken into consideration and that public bodies recognise and support carers.

The Act is an acknowledgement that carers are entitled to the same life chances as others and should not be socially excluded as a result of their caring role. Responsibilities for supporting carers need to be agreed across organisational boundaries to ensure that carers are recognised and supported by the whole of society and not just by social services.

Local authorities will face different challenges in implementing the Act, depending on the complexity of local statutory and non-statutory networks, the demographic characteristics of the local population and geographical considerations. Planning on a local level is essential to ensure that such factors are taken into consideration and local needs are properly met.

The Act applies in England and Wales to:

Carers' and 'care workers

The word 'carer' refers to people who provide unpaid care to a relative, friend or neighbour who is in need of support because of mental or physical illness, old age or disability. It does not include people who work as volunteers or paid carers; these people should be referred to as 'care workers' or, better still, this confusion could be minimised by the use within the sector of the term ‘support worker’ to describe those who are paid to provide care.

It is also important to remember that some people who use social services are also 'carers'. For example, many people with learning disabilities provide support to their ageing parents.


The purpose of this guide is to offer quick and easy access to information that will aid the implementation of the 2004 Act alongside previous related legislation.

The guide explores a number of areas and you will see these listed on the left hand menu. For each topic area the guide includes:

It also includes related areas of practice not specific to the Act that are useful to its implementation. It does not replace any previous guidance but makes reference to it where appropriate and should be used alongside it.

Previous policy and practice guidance is still relevant and is available on the Department of Health website. Related law and standards are comprehensively covered in 'Carers and their rights: The law relating to carers' ( 4 ).


This guide is designed primarily for social care managers and practitioners responsible for the implementation of the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004. The essential steps and many of the practice points throughout the guide will be useful to those responsible for strategic planning and commissioning. Practitioners will need the support of senior and line managers and an appropriate framework to enable them to help carers.

The guide may also be useful for carers, people who use social services and professionals from other organisations that support carers. This guide also aims to assist other authorities (e.g. housing, education and health) in developing their methods for acknowledging, including and supporting carers.

Your feedback

SCIE welcomes comments on any aspect of the guide, which will inform future updates. We are also very interested in collecting examples of good practice. Please send us your feedback.


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