Young adult carers and the 21 hour rule


This policy briefing calls for young adult carers to be exempt from a rule in the benefit system which means that they cannot claim Carer’s Allowance if they study for more than 21 hours per week.  

Carer’s Allowance is a benefit of £76.75 per week that can be claimed by people over the age of 16 who are caring for someone at least 35 hours per week. The ‘21 hour’ or ‘full-time education’ rule means that applicants who are studying for more than 21 hours are week are deemed ineligible. Previous vocational qualifications involved fewer teaching hours and so did not fall foul of this rule. But T levels involve more hours studying each week, a positive step that is more in line with other countries. Young adult carers are therefore forced to choose between claiming Carer’s Allowance or studying so-called ‘gold standard’ T levels and A levels. 

Many young adult carers live in low-income households, often in poverty, and cannot afford to give up the vital financial support that Carer’s Allowance provides. The impact of this extra impediment can be seen in young carers’ educational outcomes: these young people are three times as likely to be NEET (not in education, employment or training) compared to those without caring responsibilities, and four times more likely to drop out of college or university.

Nicola Aylward, Head of Learning for Young People at Learning and Work Institute
Despite making a fantastic contribution to their families and society, young adult carers miss out on so much. The 21 hour rule effectively pushes them away from education, trapping them in a caring role and preventing them from gaining the skills, qualifications and experience to build a life of their own. Exempting young adult carers from the 21 hour rule in Carer’s Allowance would have educational and economic benefits for these young people and the country. It will enable more young people with caring responsibilities to study, to complete their courses and to gain ‘flagship’ qualifications, improving their employment prospects and earnings as a result.