Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Charity offers free, unlimited support and advice for unpaid carers

The learning disability charity Hft is offering free support and advice to unpaid carers who live in England and support someone who is autistic or has a learning disability.

Hft is the only charity to offer non-time-limited support to families across the whole of England. The service is deliberately designed to remove any barriers, with no paperwork or professional referral needed.

The charity offers free advice on money management, benefits, The Care Act and the rights of carer relatives, the Mental Capacity Act, Court of Protection, and accessible holidays.

It can also signpost families to guidance and resources, and can act as a ‘Mackenzie friend’ in court proceedings, helping where they can to support the carer through the process and challenging local authority decisions around allocated hours and funding.

Joanna Shanks, a Family Carer Supporter within Hft’s Family Carer Support Service (FCSS) says family carers “often come across a lot of bureaucracy” which can mean help is delayed or simply not given.

Hft’s services are different from other similar services because unpaid carers do not need to be previously connected to the charity. “The only criteria are that you live in England and are contacting us about someone aged 16 or over,” she says.

Navigating local authority relationships

Ms Shanks describes how the FCSS team helped one family in the South West of England to get planning permission to change their front garden into a driveway.

“They have an adult child who experiences seizures when they get off the bus home from college, and needs to lie down in order to manage that. Before, not having adequate space in front of the house meant they felt very exposed and vulnerable when this happened,” she said.

The FCSS team supported the family to navigate the local authority relationship, liaising with different teams within the council, and helping to keep the pressure on until planning permission was approved.

“Now, having the new driveway means the person can go quickly from the minibus to the door of the house,” Ms Shanks said. “It’s a small thing that’s made a big difference.”

How can unpaid carers access support?

After a family has made initial contact with the FCSS team, they will be allocated a staff member who will follow up and find out about their background, the challenges they’re encountering, what they’ve tried so far, and what information they need.

“Often, what we do is about signposting them to the right information – but we’re with them for as long as they need us,” Ms Shanks said.

Ms Shanks has two autistic, secondary school-age boys, so she, along with other members of the FCSS team, draws on her lived experience for her role, helping relatives to navigate the host of different, sometimes thorny, issues they’re facing.

The FCSS has a variety of family carer-focused guides and resources, designed to simplify complicated topics. If you or anyone you support would like more information, please call the FCSS’s free phone number on 0808 801 0448.

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