A host of leading employers and campaign groups are now calling on the government to introduce tax breaks for employees with caring responsibilities.
Under the proposals, tax breaks would enable employers to offer a voucher for employees who care for a dependent relative, similar to those available to buy childcare services, mobile phones and bicycles.
The proposal would make a big difference to the millions of people who have to juggle work and care responsibilities. This is how one of the campaigns’ backers, HSBC bank, has already put support mechanisms in place for staff who are carers.
The employee’s view
Wendy is 37 years old, has worked for HSBC for 20 years and has been the joint carer for her 66-year-old disabled mother for the past 15 years. Her mother is diabetic and paralysed down one side following a severe stroke, which left her in a wheelchair.
While Wendy currently benefits from the policies HSBC has in place to assist staff with care responsibilities, the introduction of employer-supported care vouchers would make a real difference to her quality of life.
“You really don’t think about how people cope in this sort of situation until it happens to you,” she says.
When Wendy’s mother had the stroke, her employer was understanding.
The bank allowed her some flexibility to cover hospital visits and when her mother came home, she took two weeks’ holiday followed by two weeks’ compassionate leave.
When Wendy’s father died in 1998, the family faced new problems as their mother was now totally alone in the house all day. She has an emergency telephone line and buzzer, but Wendy still worries about her mother’s health and safety while she is out at work.
“I am able to take time off to take my mother for her regular hospital appointments, and I feel confident that if there were an emergency, I would be allowed to leave immediately,” Wendy says.
Most of the time the routine works well, but when it breaks down – such as when a carer doesn’t turn up for an appointment – then difficulties arise.
At times like these, Wendy has no alternative but to take time off work at very short notice.
She realises the impact that this can have on other members of the team, but is always happy to help others whenever they need assistance from her.
“I think people are becoming more aware of the needs of people with disabilities now – but there are issues that crop up every day that cause problems, distress and worry for people with disabilities and their families and carers,” she says.
The employer’s view
Elaine Bromberg, diversity manager at HSBC, says the bank already tries to provide a working environment that is flexible to the needs of its employees.
“We already have a counselling service that provides information and advice on eldercare,” she says.
“A lot of employees find it frustrating going through social services.”
This is where the new tax break scheme would help, believes Bromberg, as it would give staff a choice in the provision of help for cleaning, cooking and other daily activities. It might also encourage more employees to come forward and seek help.
“Some people wouldn’t want to label themselves as carers,” Bromberg says. “Publicised well, the scheme would be an attractive proposition and very helpful to employees.”
There are also some real benefits to the business as well, including increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and improved staff retention and morale, she says.
How tax breaks for carers would work
A system similar to the existing scheme of employer-supported childcare could provide the framework for employers to support their staff with the costs of care and support services.
Through the scheme, employers would be able to provide a benefit in kind to their employees in the provision of vouchers capable of being redeemed only for qualifying care.
This benefit would be exempt from both National Insurance contributions (NIC) and PAYE.
In addition, the administrative costs incurred by employers in supporting the scheme should be exempt from any PAYE or NI liabilities.
For an individual taking a salary sacrifice of £50 per week – an example of the level of support provided by employers – the annual saving on tax and NIC is likely to be between £800 and £1,000 a year.
For the employers, the saving on NIC would be about £300.Costs can either be limited or controlled by restricting the type of care that qualifies for inclusion, or restricting the amount of benefit through tax concessions that employees receive on a tax-free basis.
Do you think carers should receive tax breaks?
If you want to get behind this drive to win tax breaks for carers, or if you have a strong opinion on the issue, please contact us at [email protected]
About Carers Week
Carers Week, organised by a partnership of eight charities – Carers UK, Counsel & Care, Crossroads Caring for Carers, Help the Aged, Macmillan Cancer Relief, the MS Society, Rethink and The Princess Royal Trust for Carers – aims to recognise the contribution made by the UK’s estimated six million carers, and calls for better support and services for them.
For more information, visit Action for Carers and Employment