Caring about carers - in our company and across the country
All over the nation, there are millions of people regularly looking after loved ones who need help because they are older, seriously ill or living with a disability. Although we don’t have exact figures because there are many ‘hidden carers’ (more about these later!), the most recent Census 2021 estimates that there are 5.7 million unpaid carers in the UK, while research by Carers UK suggests there could be as many as 10.6 million. It’s estimated that these unpaid carers save the state £132 billion a year. To put that in context, the entire NHS budget is £160 billion.
One in seven unpaid carers juggles their caring responsibilities with a job, while many others have had to give up paid work altogether because they couldn’t balance it with providing care. On average, 600 people a day leave work to care, and that’s not a decision we want the people who work at Centrica to face. We want to support our colleagues and customers in providing care, as well as leading the way in encouraging positive change for unpaid carers across the nation.
Leading the way as a carer-friendly company
We have a proud history of supporting carers working in our business. In 2004, we established the Carers Network to help make colleagues aware of all the help available to balance work with their caring commitments, as well as guiding and advising line managers on how best to support them. It’s just one of our employee groups that represents minority groups to help action real change.
That same year, we became founding members of Employers for Carers, a membership forum backed by Carers UK that now has over 145 members. We are one of only 10 companies in its Leadership Group, where we lead the way on supporting working carers, formulating policy and lobbying government.
In 2019, we began a three-year charity partnership with Carers UK during which we donated £1 million and raised £2.2 million. It won the Best Partnership with a National Charity award at the Better Society Awards. We also won Best in Care and Elderly Care in 2018 and 2019 in the Working Families Best Practice Awards.
Today, we retain the highest Employers for Carers ‘Carer Confident’ benchmark, making us one of only five UK employers with ‘Ambassador’ accreditation. We want all carers to have the same fantastic support that Centrica provides. That’s why we supported the Carer’s Leave Bill put forward by Wendy Chamberlain MP. On 24th May 2023, it received Royal Assent and will now pass into law as the Carer’s Leave Act, introducing a statutory entitlement to paid carer’s leave for the first time.
Supporting our caring colleagues
It’s not easy to juggle work life with being a carer. That’s why we’re leading the way with carer-friendly policies that help our colleagues find a balance between the two. These include:
Flexible working, whenever they need it
Caring doesn’t just happen on evenings and weekends. So we do our best to help colleagues fit work around their caring responsibilities – whether that’s earlier or later start times, or the ability to work from home on a regular basis.
My wife is extremely vulnerable and started new medication that completely wipes her immune system. The ability to work from home is essential as there is no way I could work otherwise.
The UK’s best Carer’s Leave Policy
We offer 10 days of paid leave per year, and a further 10 days if it’s matched with annual leave, giving colleagues a total of 30 days paid leave to undertake their caring responsibilities.
Centrica has been supportive with a great carer’s leave policy. My daughter Martha is profoundly disabled, and it’s allowed me to take her to regular hospital appointments and surgeries. Being able to take up to 10 days carer’s leave in a rolling 12-month period has been a massive help when I’ve needed it.
Introduced in 2019, this enables employees to declare themselves carers and state their flexibility or support needs. It’s automatically stored on their HR profile so there’s no need to repeat themselves if they move around the company.
I was very nervous about to returning to work following a bereavement - I was worried about losing my job and looking after my family. It helped that I was already registered as holding a Carer Passport. I was overwhelmed by the help and support I received from my colleagues, Centrica and Carers UK. Speaking with the Carers Network made it a great deal easier to deal with my grief and helped me returning to work. I believe Carers Network is worth its weight in gold.
Identifying our hidden carers
Some of the people looking after loved ones may not recognise themselves as carers. We want to uncover all of these ‘hidden carers’ so that they’re aware of and able to access the support available. Since 2019, we’ve increased the number of carers we know about from 33% to 65%, and we’re hoping to reach 75% by the end of 2023.
Uncovering all our hidden carers is the number one priority of the Carers Network. Lots of colleagues providing unpaid care at home to loved ones simply don’t realise they’re a carer, so we have been spending lots of time spreading the word and helping people to self-identify. This is vital as it ensures as many of our carers as possible are accessing the market-leading support Centrica can provide.
Best practice mental health support
Being a carer can take its toll on mental health, so we provide a comprehensive suite of support including Virtual GP access, our MyCare assistance programme and our 100-strong Mental Health First Aiders network. In 2022, CCLA (the UK’s largest charity fund manager) recognised us as one of only three companies in the UK’s top 100 providing Tier 1 mental health support.
Centrica puts staff wellbeing at the forefront of everything it does. The support and resources available through MyCare and MyHealth got me through the darkest days of caring for my son Jamie. They brought me out the other side stronger and gave me coping strategies to deal with anything life throws at me.
Helping our customers who care
We recognise that our customers have caring responsibilities too, and we want to help them as much as we can. As well as training our call centre colleagues and third-party suppliers to identify and better support carers, we’ve also trained our customer service teams to better understand carers’ needs. About 9,000 carers have been identified on our British Gas Customer Relationship Management platform and are now more aware of the support available.
In addition, we’ve also introduced a ‘Carers Flag’ on our database. This flag makes it much easier for our advisers to identify carers and offer extra support that could make a huge difference. There is also a flag for vulnerable customers who are being cared for, which means our engineers and customer service teams can liaise directly with a carer instead of bothering the person being cared for.
Plus, we’re able to help carers through our Priority Service Register, which gives them advanced notice of things like planned power cuts and priority support in an emergency. So they can continue caring for their loved ones, no matter what.
If you look after a loved one, or you know someone who does, you can find out about the types of support available at Carers UK .