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Staying safe - FAQs

We understand that this is a difficult and uncertain time, particularly when you’re responsible for the welfare of others. 

Below we have answers to some common questions about how to stay safe.

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Last updated: 5 February 2021 18:09

How can I look after someone who is vulnerable and prove my role as a carer?

With nationwide lockdowns now in place, you are advised to stay at home as much as possible. Avoid using public transport, going to the shops or going to work particularly if you are clinically vulnerable. It is important to undertake shielding measures again if you did before. See this guidance for more details: in England, in Scotland, in Wales, or in Northern Ireland.

Find information about support services below or turn to your local council (or Trust in Northern Ireland) using our local directory if you need to find their contact details:

Some carers are worried about having to prove they are a carer during the pandemic in order to travel and demonstrate they are exempt to certain rules. Many local authority areas run different ID schemes. Look at your local carers’ organisation or local authority website to see what is available:

If there is not a scheme in place, contact your GP practice or ask at your local NHS Trust, if the person you are looking after is under their care, and ask for a standard letter identifying you as a carer. 

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Can I visit people for care purposes?

You are advised to stay at home as much as possible due to high levels in cases of the virus. You should only leave home if absolutely necessary, for example to visit people in your support bubble/extended household. 

If you need to provide essential care for someone, you are permitted to visit them and you can receive necessary respite care. You can also accompany them to medical appointments if you need to, taking cautionary measures. The government recommends using PPE if you are caring for someone you don't live with – find out more here

If you are struggling to cope, it is possible to arrange respite care if you yourself need a break as a carer. Read more about getting extra support. Contact your local authority or Trust (in Northern Ireland) if you are in need of assistance:

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Can I still visit and look after my elderly father who has complex health needs and lives in a different house?

You can continue to visit your father in his home, and accompany him to appointments or go outdoors with him if he wishes (if it is just the two of you) and you are taking every precaution – you do not have to have formed a support bubble with him.

The latest guidance states that you can continue to leave the house to provide essential care to someone who is vulnerable. However you must be careful to take every precaution possible, such as wearing a face covering and taking stringent hygiene measures. You can read more about the safety recommendations here.

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What’s the latest advice on shielding in lockdown areas?

You may have been caring for someone shielding, or shielding yourself previously and wonder what the situation is now. You should have been contacted (most likely by letter) about the measures it is advisable for you to follow now. 

For more information, see the following guidance depending on where you live:

England        Scotland      Wales      Northern Ireland

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How can I keep myself and loved ones safe through contact tracing?

You can now download a free official app to protect you and your loved ones and be prepared in your area. In England and Wales, this is the NHS COVID-19 app, while in Scotland, this is called Protect Scot.

In Northern Ireland, the new test and trace app, called the StopCOVID NI Proximity App, can be found here

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What's the latest guidance on face coverings?

Across the UK, use of face coverings is compulsory in many public places such as in shops and on public transport. Additionally, you must wear a mask if you are visiting someone in a hospital or care home or attending an appointment.

See this page for more guidance on when to wear a face covering, noting that some different rules apply across the nations. For example in Scotland, there are some additional places where you are required to wear a face covering – further details are available here.   

What happens if I can't wear a face covering or the person I care for can't because of their age, a disability or medical reason?

Exemptions for the use of face coverings do apply if you have certain health conditions or disabilities, where wearing one causes problems. There are exemption cards available to help, such as those found via the link on this page or recommended on the Hidden Disabilities site: Here are some other printable options on the site.

The age range of children who are exempt differs across the UK. For more guidance about exemptions in different parts of the UK, please refer to the following pages: EnglandNorthern IrelandScotland and Wales. (Note – you are not required to carry medical evidence to prove why you are exempt, but you may find it helpful to carry a note to help explain.)

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We are shielding – what support is available for us now?

In England, if you are at higher risk from COVID-19 and need support or you are caring for someone who is vulnerable, the NHS Responder Scheme can continue to provide support. Call 0808 196 3646 to make a referral for anyone you care for or to seek support for yourself. The scheme can help arrange collections of prescriptions, and other medication and food and there are volunteers who can be contacted for a chat over the phone if you or someone you care for is feeling lonely. If you have been affected by coronavirus, you can also visit

In Scotland, you can continue to receive key updates through the SMS Shielding Service. The service will carry on for as long as it’s needed as will the national helpline. You can call the National Helpline on 0800 111 4000 if you are vulnerable and do not have a network of family or friends to turn to or community support. Both practical assistance and emotional support are available. Read more on If you have been affected by coronavirus, you can also visit

In Wales priority slots for online supermarket shopping remain in place. The prescriptions delivery service for those who have been shielding will also continue until the end of September. Any health or social care services you're already receiving, through you local authority, will continue. If you have been affected by coronavirus, you can also visit

In Northern Ireland, you can continue to access advice, help and guidance by contacting the Covid-19 Community Helpline by calling 0808 802 0020, emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or texting: ACTION to 81025. If you have been affected by coronavirus, you can also visit

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Can I be prioritised for COVID-19 testing as a carer?

Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus is eligible for a test and this can be requested through the NHS website, whether you're in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. You can apply on someone else's behalf online, with their permission, if they are not able to.

The government has included unpaid carers in their latest list of essential workers who can be prioritised for COVID-19 testing in England and Scotland. You do not need to bring identification to prove you are an unpaid carer. If you book a specific slot at a regional testing site or mobile testing unit, you will receive an email and text confirmation with a QR code. You will need to bring the QR code, either on your smartphone or on the print-out of the email, to the coronavirus test appointment.

Find out more about about how to get tested, the process and what types of test are available on this page.

'Trace and test' systems have been launched across the UK to help contain the spread of the virus – read more


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How do I contact my GP if the person I care for is unwell or if I need medical advice?

It's vital to still seek medical advice when needed for other medical issues too. You can call your GP surgery or contact them via their website. They can then arrange for you to have a phone consultation with your GP who will be happy to advise you on next steps. It's important not to wait if you have any doubts at all about your health or the health of someone you care for.

You should only visit a surgery if advised to by your doctor. However, do not hesitate to call 999 in an emergency. The NHS website also has some useful guidance on taking care of yourself and others. 

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Is the person I care for at particular risk from coronavirus?

If you think the person you care for is at high risk, it is worth contacting their GP (if they are unable to) to verify whether they should be taking additional protective measures. It is best to take precautions if you have any doubts in the meantime, and follow the NHS advice

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What is a support bubble or extended household?

If you live alone or alone with dependent children (aged under 18), you can form what has been termed as a ‘support bubble’ ('extended household' in Scotland) with one other household which can be of any size. 

This means that you can spend time in each other’s households for company and support – including overnight – and do not need to follow the social distancing rule with each other.

Once you've formed your 'support bubble'/ 'extended household', you can't change who is part of it. The website has more details, covering the extra measures you would need to take, here. Refer to this guidance if you live in Scotland. 

A summary of the rules for forming a support bubble:

• you are the only adult in your household (any other members of the household having been under 18 on 12 June 2020), or are an under 18-year-old living without any adults
• you live with someone with a disability who requires continuous care
• you live with a child under 1, or who was under 1 on 2 December 2020
• you live with a child under 5, or who was under 5 on 2 December 2020, with a disability.

What if someone in the ‘support bubble’/'extended household' shows symptoms of coronavirus?

If anyone from either household displays any symptoms of coronavirus, everyone in each of the households would need to stay at home and follow this guidance. If someone within a ‘support bubble’/ 'extended household' is contacted by the test and trace system or test and protect system, they would need to stay at home and if they then become symptomatic, again all included in the group would need to isolate to stay safe and save lives.

Can I travel?

We are all advised to stay at home as much as possible. If you live in a lockdown area, it is no longer possible to travel outside of your area or form a new bubble with any other household except for caring purposes. Existing support bubbles, however, will remain in place for those who are at risk of isolation – read more.

In England, strict lockdown measures have been in place since early January and these are set to last until the end of March – read more.

In Scotland, a full lockdown came into effect across mainland Scotland which will last at least until mid February. – read more

In Wales, the latest lockdown was introduced on 20 December. You can read more about the rules to follow here. Also see our webpage for further guidance about the latest restrictions in Wales.

In Northern Ireland, a lockdown was introduced on 26 December – this is set to last at least until 5 March. The latest guidelines to follow are here.

Can I form a support bubble if I care for someone with a disability?

In England, new regulations mean that if you are caring for someone with a disability at home, you can form a support bubble with another household, a “linked household”. If you are a carer with a child under 5 who has a disability, then even if there is more than one adult in the household, you can form a support bubble – read more.

Does this change the social distancing guidance in general?

No. This does not affect the general guidance advising all to stay at home as much as possible, especially if you are very vulnerable to the coronavirus. Understandably, it may not be possible to follow the rules around strict social distancing if you are providing essential care to someone. This page provides further guidance.

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Who is most at risk from COVID-19?

The UK Government has issued guidance about who is at increased risk from coronavirus (COVID-19). You need to be particularly careful about staying away from others (social distancing) if you are 70 or older (with or without medical conditions) or if you are younger than 70 and have underlying health conditions, including long-term respiratory diseases and long-term heart disease, such as heart failure. See the full list on the website. 

The Scottish Government has also produced information about specific conditions and risk. There are separate versions for those who are shielding and those who are not. If you live in Scotland, you may wish to follow this guidance here

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I desperately need a break from caring - what can I do?

Ensuring you are taking every Covid precaution possible, you can arrange with family or friends for someone else to provide the care you normally provide to the person you care for, to enable you to take a break. This could include someone coming into the home of the person you care for, which can be overnight.

This also means that the person you care for can go to someone else’s home to receive care to give you a break from caring, which can also be overnight. In all cases, the arrangement must be reasonably necessary for the purpose of respite care being provided for the person being cared for.

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What is the latest news on the vaccine?

See our webpage of frequently asked questions related to the vaccine here: If you have a query about this, contact our Helpline at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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