What is ‘Gratuitous Care’?

Imagine what would happen if somebody in your close family were to be seriously injured in an accident. They would be taken by the emergency services to hospital, where the doctors and nurses would do their best to save their life and care for them until their medical condition was stable. At some point, your close relative would come home. Hopefully, they would then get better sufficiently to be able to return to their normal way of life, going back to work, looking after children, engaging in sports and hobbies and so on. But what if they did not? What if they had sustained a brain injury and were no longer able to make decisions for themselves? What if they could no longer put their own clothes on, wash their own hair or even cut up their own food? Who will look after them?

The state will provide some help in certain circumstances. Subject to means assessment, the social services department of the local authority might provide an agency carer to come in once, twice or three times a day. Everybody knows about ‘meals on wheels’. But in the main, seriously injured victims of accidents are usually reliant, heavily, on friends and relatives to meet their needs.

If the accident was somebody else’s fault, then the victim of that accident (the Claimant) will be able to claim compensation. But what about the relative who has now become a carer? What can they claim?

The time given by a friend or relative to the injured person to help them with everyday tasks is referred to as ‘gratuitous care’. Although there can be no direct claim for compensation by the carer, the Claimant themselves is entitled to recover compensation, under English law, on the carer’s behalf. In this way, it is possible to recover significant compensation payments for carers who have provided all sorts of services to their loved one.

For example:

  • A builder fell off a roof and sustained severe injuries to his arm and elbow. He required a great deal of physical care and assistance from his wife on a daily basis. In addition, possibly because of his inability to work in a job he loved ever again, he developed severe clinical depression and, for a period of time, was at risk of suicide. He relied heavily upon his wife for emotional support. She benefited from a gratuitous care claim. 
  • A young mother was able to return home after a very serious accident, just about managing to look after her own care needs, but completely unable to look after the needs of her small son any more. She struggled to get in and out of the shower herself, and was no longer able to lift and carry her little boy. Her own mother stepped in to help the family out, as grandmothers so often do. The Claimant was able to repay her mother’s sacrifice with a gratuitous care payment. 

In all of the above cases, the family members who sacrificed their time to assist their loved one had previously been in paid employment. Most of them lost income from their jobs. Some lost their jobs altogether. But the law does not compensate for that loss of earnings. The hours of sacrifice made by friends and family is known as “gratuitous care” because no money is exchanged. Compensation is recovered at the hourly rate that you would pay for professionals to come and look after you from an agency. Then the overall amount is reduced to reflect the fact that no profit is sought to be made by the carer. Although claims for gratuitous care can be very significant indeed, it is rarely worth it for a well-paid employee to give up their job and become a carer, with only gratuitous care as a compensation.

In cases where the victim of the accident is left with long term disabilities, the best option, from a financial point of view, is to employ staff to do the caring job, allowing relatives to return to paid employment. Overall, the family will be financially better off if they do. In practice, however, families can struggle to accept outside help. Who, after all, would choose to have strangers within their family home?

In summary, a gratuitous care claim, whilst valuable, does not truly compensate for the loving and self-sacrificing care given and usually leaves the family worse off than they were before the accident happened. Is that fair? Many feel not. A good solicitor will make sure that a care package is set up which is not only in the best interests of the Claimant (the injured victim) but of the whole family. It can take time and patience, but is usually well worth it.