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Working and caring: What are your rights?

Around 6.5 million adults in the UK are carers, or one in eight of us. As the population gets older, it's a figure that's predicted to rise - and fast. The charity Carers UK says that every day 6,000 new people take on a caring responsibility, meaning that the total number could rise by 2 million a year.

As it stands, the charity says that more than 3 million people balance their caring responsibilities with work and careers. But it found that one in five carers had to give up work to meet those responsibilities.

Carers who are also employees do have statutory rights at work. One of the most important is the right to ask for flexible working - a request to change working patterns, such as hours, times or place of work (e.g. working from home), to better fit in with the demands of caring.

To qualify, the carer must be an employee with a contract of employment and have worked for their employer for 26 weeks continuously when the application is made. Carers who have a different employment status, such as being agency workers or self-employed, may not be covered by this right.

The right covers one request for flexible working within a 12-month period. The carer needs to be caring or expecting to care for a spouse, partner, relative, child with a disability under 18, or adult in need of care living at the same address.

Employees can also ask for 'time off for dependants' in emergencies or unforeseen situations. This is 'reasonable' time away from work to deal with an emergency concerning a dependant - meaning a spouse, partner, child, parent, or live-in relative. Someone not related who depends on the employee for care may also qualify.

The employee must let the employer know as soon as possible after the emergency that time off is needed, and give an indication of how long they may need. It's up to the policies of the employer whether or not this time away is paid.

Many employers offer further support to carers, which are usually outlined in employment contracts or workplace policies. These might include flexible leave arrangements to cover intensive periods of care, or the chance to take career breaks. Some carers say that it's sometimes simple things like being able to use a phone at work that can make all the difference.

Acas offers detailed advice on The right to request flexible working and Time off for dependants. Acas also provides practical training on matters surrounding Flexible working and Contracts and terms and conditions.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects page for more information.

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