Carers’ leave (unpaid, short-term)

Last updated March 2024

To help staff to balance their work and caring commitments an unpaid carers’ leave scheme is available.

NB with effect from 6 April 2024 employees have a statutory right under the Carers Leave Act 2023 to up to a week’s unpaid leave during any period of 12 months, the length of which may be taken as a minimum of half a working day. This statutory right to carers’ leave cannot be exercised separately to the University’s contractual scheme i.e. the statutory week is counted as part of the contractual four weeks.

Expand All

The purpose of carers’ leave is to enable carers some additional flexibility to be able to deal with short-term caring requirements in a planned way. Examples of the way that carers’ leave might be used are:

  • To set up and/or settle a dependant into a new care arrangement
  • To support a dependant who has an acute caring need (such as following an accident/operation, or due to illness or disability)
  • To accompany a dependant on a trip when they will be a required to carry out care responsibilities
  • To visit a dependant who lives in a different region or country

Parents who wish to take unpaid leave to care for a child should use the parental leave scheme. However, if a child has longer-term care needs and parents therefore meet the definition of a carer, below, they may make use of this scheme as well as the parental leave scheme.

There is also a statutory entitlement under the Employment Rights Act 1996 for staff to take reasonable unpaid time off for dependants during normal working hours, and the University offers up to 5 days per annum paid time off for dealing with domestic emergencies and periods of acute caring responsibilities. Please read the full details of these schemes.

Where an individual has longer term needs for flexibility in working arrangements, see ‘longer term arrangements’ below.


Back to top

An employee is a carer if they look after someone else because:

  1. they have an illness or injury (whether physical or mental) that requires, or is likely to require, care for more than three months, or
  2. they have a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, or
  3. they require care for a reason connected with their old age

They are eligible to request carers’ leave if the leave will be used to carry out caring responsibilities for a dependant who has a long-term illness or health condition, is disabled, elderly, or has other long-term care needs.

A person is a “dependant” of an employee if they:

  1. are a spouse, civil partner, child or parent of the employee,
  2. live in the same household as the employee, otherwise than by reason of being the employee’s boarder, employee, lodger or tenant, or
  3. reasonably rely on the employee to provide or arrange care.

Parents wishing to take unpaid leave for family responsibilities which fall under the scope of the provisions of the unpaid parental leave scheme should use that scheme. 

Employees are not required to provide evidence of their caring responsibilities in order to make a request for statutory carers’ leave (ie one week per 12 months).  Where employees wish to request between 2 and 4 weeks under the contractual scheme departments may make reasonable enquiries to ensure that the request is genuine.

Back to top

A carer can request to take up to four weeks unpaid carers’ leave in any year. The year for this purpose is the twelve months beginning on the date the employee first took carers’ leave.

The four weeks is made up of:

  • 1 week statutory carers leave which can be taken as a full week, or as individual days or half days.
  • a further 3 weeks contractual carers leave which must be taken in blocks of a minimum of one week. A 'week' equals the length of time an employee normally works in a week (ie an employee who works two days a week is entitled to two days leave). If an employee chooses to take a block of less than the normal length of their normal working week, this will be treated as though it were a full week's leave for the purposes of calculating the remaining entitlement to leave, but payment will be made for days worked as normal. Where odd days leave are required employees may prefer to request these either as annual leave (from their contractual leave entitlement or, where agreed, Additional Annual leave entitlement) or as ad hoc days of unpaid leave.

Back to top

Carers who need more than four weeks’ carers' leave per year should consider an alternative option.  For example:

  • Carers who need some additional flexibility to deal with caring responsibilities may want to enquire whether their department offers the additional annual leave scheme through which up to 10 days’ additional annual leave can be arranged, paid for by an appropriate reduction in salary.
  • the ‘career break’ scheme allows unpaid leave of up to 12 months to be requested.
  • Carers who have a long-term need for reduced working should consider making a flexible working application to request part-time working (on a permanent or temporary basis).


For staff who have suffered a bereavement separate arrangements apply (parents who lose a child under the age of 18 are also entitled to parental bereavement leave).

Back to top

Requests are subject to approval by the department, and it will not always be possible to agree a request, due to operational constraints. Departments are expected to give careful consideration to requests. Where it is not possible to agree a request alternatives should be explored which might include considering different dates or duration for the leave.

Back to top

Carers must give notice for the statutory leave (ie one week available through the statutory scheme) which is either twice the length of time being requested, or three days whichever is the longer.

A request to take a period of contractual unpaid carers’ leave (ie weeks 2-4 of he contractual entitlement offered by the University) must be made at least 21 days before the leave is requested to start and is subject to approval (see ‘Consideration of requests’).

Back to top

Departments should keep records of carers’ leave as part of their normal absence management procedures.

Unpaid leave should be recorded in PeopleXD in accordance with the guidance.

Back to top

The cost of the unpaid leave will normally be deducted from salary in the month, or the month after, that in which the leave is taken.

Back to top

The employment contract continues during an absence on carers’ leave, unless it is terminated by the employer or employee. This means that an employee continues to benefit from their employment rights during unpaid carers’ leave, including holiday accrual.

Back to top