Respite care allowance – giving family carers a short break

Respite care allowance covers the cost of care for short periods when family carers or other voluntary carers are temporarily unavailable. It is a long-term care insurance benefit that allows arrangements to be made for replacement care for a care recipient without the care recipient needing to leave their own home.

At a glance

  • Respite care allowance (“Verhinderungspflege” in German) is intended to give carers some respite, i.e., relief from their caring role for a limited period.
  • It consists of a budget that the person in need of care can use to pay for a replacement carer while their regular family carer is unavailable.
  • The family carer may, for example, be unwell, have work commitments or want to take a vacation or engage in leisure-time activities.
  • Respite care allowance can be provided for several hours, days or weeks at a time.
  • The scope of the entitlement depends on whether the respite care, i.e., replacement care is to be provided by close relatives or people from within the same household or by distant relatives, acquaintances or service providers.
  • The entitlement for children and young adults in need of care was extended on 1 January 2024.
Someone passing a mug to an older person.

What is respite care allowance?

Respite care allowance enables family carers or other carers to take some time off from their caring roles on a regular basis or for several weeks a year or to use this time to take care of their own health needs – while knowing that the care recipient will continue to be looked after. 

This benefit provided by long-term care insurance providers consists of a budget to cover the costs of replacement care for these periods. It allows care recipients to arrange for replacement care in accordance with their own requirements. They themselves can choose the person who will provide the replacement care and where it will be provided.

Respite care allowance enables care recipients to arrange for replacement care in accordance with their own requirements.

The replacement care can be provided in an environment that is familiar to the care recipient, such as in their own home or in the home of the replacement carer. However, other settings are also possible – for example, residential facilities for people with disabilities, boarding facilities and residential care facilities. Replacement care can be provided by nursing staff, family members, loved ones or others, such as neighbors, volunteers, aid agencies or rural home helpers.

Caring for other people is very time-consuming and challenging. In addition, many carers are also in employment, have their own families to raise or, in many cases, are themselves of older age and have health issues to deal with. A regular entitlement to a vacation and to time off to recharge gives them some relief and ensures that care can continue to be provided to the care recipient at home so that a move to a full-time residential care facility can be avoided in the long term. Respite care allowance can also be provided for just a few hours a day to give carers a short break.

The care recipient is the person entitled to respite care allowance. The budget is available once per year and can be used when a carer is unavailable to provide care.

Respite care is essentially replacement care provided on a temporary basis as relief for caregivers. The respite care allowance is a long-term care insurance benefit that covers the cost of this relief.

The same entitlements and criteria apply to people with private long-term care insurance and those with statutory long-term care insurance.

What level of cover is provided by the respite care allowance?

There are two different levels of respite care allowance cover. The care recipient’s level of cover depends on the person who will temporarily provide them with care in place of their usual carer:

  • a person unrelated to them (unrelated carer)
  • a closely related person or person living in the same household (related carer)

What is the entitlement for respite care provided by an unrelated carer?

Unrelated carers include, for example, home care services, other professional nursing staff and voluntary carers who are not closely related to the care recipient.

A maximum budget of 1,612 euros per year is available to pay for respite care provided by unrelated carers. This can be spread over a period of 6 weeks.

In other words, the amount can be spent in smaller installments to cover short periods within the space of 6 weeks but cannot be spent outside of the specified window of 6 weeks. A maximum daily amount is also specified.

In addition, part of the short-term care allowance budget can be used to pay for respite care. A maximum of 806 euros can be used for this purpose. This is only possible on condition that the short-term care allowance has not already been fully spent. The short-term care allowance is then reduced by the amount that is re-allocated to the respite care allowance.

This means that a maximum amount of 2,418 euros is available per calendar year for respite care. However, the 6-week window cannot be extended.

If the entitlement available as part of long-term care insurance is not enough to cover the cost of respite care provided by a professional carer, it may be possible, under certain circumstances, to apply for help with care costs from the local social welfare office.

Important: If the respite care is provided in a residential facility, the long-term care insurance provider only covers the care-related costs.

What level of cover is available for respite care provided by a family carer?

A family carer is a person who is related up to the second degree to the care recipient either by blood or by marriage or who lives with the care recipient in the same household.

A smaller allowance is available to cover respite care provided by these carers. It is based on the care recipient’s nursing care allowance for a period of 6 weeks. This means that the respite care allowance available for family carers depends on the care grade that has been assigned to the care recipient.

The possible allowances per calendar year are listed below:

  • Care grade 2: 498.00 euros
  • Care grade 3: 859.50 euros
  • Care grade 4: 1,147.50 euros
  • Care grade 5: 1,420.50 euros

If respite care is provided by a family carer, the long-term care insurance provider also covers the costs of any necessary expenses incurred (surplus costs). These include loss of earnings and travel expenses, for example. Reimbursement is subject to the submission of receipts/proof of costs.

However, the maximum amount that will be covered by the long-term care provider is 1,612 euros per year for respite care and surplus costs. This amount can be supplemented by a portion of the short-term care allowance. However, this must only be used to cover surplus costs.

The following are all considered family carers:

  • spouses and life partners
  • couples living together in a union resembling marriage
  • parents, step-parents, parents-in-law
  • grandparents, step-grandparents, grandparents of a spouse or life partner
  • children, step-children, spouses or life partners of children (sons-in-law and daughters-in-law)
  • grandchildren, spouses or life partners of a grandchild (grandsons-in law and granddaughters-in-law)
  • siblings, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law

Important: If a person is being paid to care for a care recipient who is a relative of theirs up to the second degree or who lives in the same household as them, they are entitled to claim the benefits that are available for unrelated carers. The prerequisite in this case is that the care they are providing must be a means for them to earn an income.

What is the “hourly respite care allowance”?

No minimum duration is specified for respite care allowance. You can apply for this benefit of long-term care insurance even for just a few hours per day.

This can be useful if, for example, the carer is unavailable for only part of a day but the care recipient requires constant care – as in the case of children in need of care or people with dementia.

Hourly respite care is paid out of the existing allowance but the time limit no longer applies. Over 42 days of respite care per calendar year can be covered.

The prerequisite here is that the regular carer must be unavailable for less than 8 hours per day. On the other hand, the length of time for which the replacement carer steps in for the regular carer is not taken into account. For example, if a carer is absent for more than 8 hours because of a business trip, hourly respite care cannot be claimed – even if the respite care was only provided for 5 hours. The time limit of 6 weeks therefore still applies in this case.

Which criteria apply to the respite care allowance?

The respite care allowance can be claimed by care recipients with a care grade of 2 or higher.

The respite care allowance can be claimed by care recipients with a care grade of 2 or higher.

The following additional criteria must also be met:

  • The care that the person normally receives is provided at home and is provided partly or entirely by one or more family carers or voluntary carers. These may be relatives, friends or neighbors, for example.
  • A family carer or voluntary carer has been providing part or all of the care recipient’s care for a period of at least 6 months (the prior care period).
  • The regular carer is temporarily unable to provide care during periods of illness or vacation or for another similarly important reason.

The criteria are considered met even if only one of multiple carers are unavailable or if the carer who is unavailable provides care to the care recipient in addition to a home care service or a day care service – for example, in the evenings, at night or on weekends.

In contrast, there is no entitlement to respite care if the care recipient is cared for exclusively by a home care service.

Important: Since January 2024, specific relief options have been available for children and young adults in need of care up to their 25th birthday if they have been assigned care grade 4 or 5. They are now entitled to up to 8 weeks of respite care per year. In addition, no qualifying period applies. Moreover, their short-term care benefits can be fully converted into respite care allowance benefits.

Are people with care grade 1 entitled to respite care allowance?

People with care grade 1 are not entitled to this benefit. However, an entitlement to respite care allowance may apply if the care recipient was assigned care grade 1 in the six-month prior care period and was only re-assigned to a higher care grade shortly before requiring respite care.

What exactly is the prior care period (“Vorpflegezeit”)?

The prior care period is one of the criteria that must be met when applying for respite care allowance. It is a qualifying period of at least 6 months during which the care recipient must be receiving care from a family carer or voluntary carer before they can apply for respite care allowance.

This qualifying period criterion is considered met even if several people have shared the role of carer between them. In addition, there is no specified number of hours per week that the carer must have been providing care during this 6-months period.

The only requirements is that care was provided for the specified period and that this is the care recipient’s first application for respite care allowance. The prior care period may comprise of several shorter periods and does not have to run right up to the period during which respite care is required. Gaps of less than four weeks are not considered when calculating the total qualifying period.

More information about the qualifying period for respite care allowance is available from nursing care advice centers or from consumer advice centers.

Good to know: If the qualifying period criterion is not fulfilled, the short-term care allowance may be used in certain cases. Short-term care is provided in a residential care facility.

What are the reasons for applying for respite care allowance?

Respite care may be required during periods of illness, vacation or other “substantial reasons”. As respite care allowance is intended to provide relief to family carers and voluntary carers, these substantial reasons also include recreational activities, such as visiting friends or going to watch a movie.

If in doubt, it’s a good idea to contact the long-term care insurance fund or private long-term care insurance company to ask whether the criteria are met and which costs they will cover.

Nursing care advice centers also provide information about the criteria for respite care allowance and about other benefits and services that are available.

How do I make a claim for respite care allowance?

A claim for respite care allowance must be submitted to the care recipient’s statutory long-term care insurance fund or private long-term care insurance company. Retrospective claims can also be submitted. 

When submitting a claim, you must specify why the regular carer is unavailable. 

Respite care allowance is not paid on a flat-rate basis. The long-term care insurance provider will retrospectively reimburse you for costs accrued up to the maximum amount possible. You must submit accounts of all expenses, together with receipts and other proof of costs, to the long-term care insurance provider. 

In the case of family carers, the replacement carer and the care recipient will agree on the rate at which replacement care is to be paid. Long-term care insurance providers often have expenses forms that can be used to provide documentary evidence of costs.

How does respite care allowance affect other benefits?

If a carer is unavailable to provide care for a number of days or weeks, the nursing care allowance is reduced. During this time, only half of the regular nursing care allowance will be paid. The nursing care allowance will only be paid in full on the first and last days.

If the carer is unavailable for a number of hours only (up to 8 hours per day), the nursing care allowance is not reduced.

In addition, the budgets for care benefits in kind and for day care remain unchanged if a family carer who provides the care recipient with additional care is unavailable.

Reviewed by the Consumer Advice Center of Rhineland-Palatinate (Verbraucherzentrale Rheinland-Pfalz e.V. – VZ RLP)

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