This week's expert is Paddy Cullen from Carers UK
BBC News Online's Ask the Expert column gives readers a chance to have their financial questions answered.
This week, Paddy Cullen, manager of Carers' UK information and advice line, helps Your Money reader David Lindsay.
Mr Lindsay's wife has been ill since January and unable to work. The illness is still undiagnosed, although ME could be a possibility.
He is finding it hard combining his full-time work with caring for his wife and two children, but he cannot afford a reduction in salary.
They do have critical illness cover but, without a formal diagnosis, it is unlikely to pay out.
To whom can Mr Lindsay turn for advice?
Paddy Cullen writes:
David needs to see if he can get practical support for his wife to help him stay in work, if he wants to.
He also needs to find out what benefits and other financial support the family can get to help balance the household budget.
David and his wife may be able to claim financial help from the benefits system.
First, if David's wife was earning £77 a week or more (in the tax year April 03/04), she may be due statutory sick pay from her employer.
Statutory sick pay is paid for the first 28 weeks of illness. If his wife was earning above the limit and her employer refuses to pay her, seek further advice as soon as possible.
If his wife cannot get statutory sick pay, she may be able to claim incapacity benefit.
To get this, she must have paid enough national insurance contributions in one of the last three tax years and have paid or been credited with enough contributions in the last two tax years.
Incapacity benefit is paid from the date that statutory sick pay stops, or the date she became incapable of work if she does not qualify for statutory sick pay.
It can be backdated for up to three months if she claims late. You can claim incapacity benefit from your local social security office or Jobcentre plus (see links for the Department for Work & Pensions and Jobcentre Plus on right).
PADDY'S TIPS: IN SUMMARY
Check eligibility for statutory sick pay, disability living allowance and incapacity benefit
Get an assessment from your local social services department
Seek help from an experienced benefits adviser
Tax credits: Check that tax credit claim is sufficient
David's wife may be able to claim disability living allowance.
This is for people under 65 who have care needs or mobility problems arising from a long-term illness or disability.
The needs must have existed for three months and be expected to last a further six months before a payment can be made.
Claim disability living allowance by calling 0800 882200 (0800 220674 in Northern Ireland).
As David's family's income drops, they may become entitled to more from child tax credit or start to qualify for the working tax credit.
If his wife is accepted as "incapacitated" by the Inland Revenue, they may get help with childcare costs from the tax credit system.
To claim extra tax credits call the tax credit helpline on 0845 300 3900 (0845 603 2000 in Northern Ireland)
If David pays rent and his income and savings are sufficiently low he may get housing benefit; if he pays council tax he may get council tax benefit.
He may be able to claim non-means-tested reductions to his council tax if their property is adapted in specified ways because of his wife's disabilities. You can claim help with rent and council tax from your local council.
David is unlikely to qualify for benefits as a carer. These benefits are not payable if his earnings (after specific deductions) are more than £79 a week (from April 2004).
David may be able to get practical help to look after his wife from his local social services department.
His wife should ask for an assessment of her care needs. He can ask for a separate assessment of his needs as a carer so that extra services can be supplied to help him to continue to care for his wife.
Social services help may allow him to continue to work full-time whilst ensuring that his wife is cared for adequately.
David may be able to negotiate either temporary or permanent changes to his mortgage repayments with his mortgage lender; or negotiate changes to the repayment rates of other debts.
This can help the family to cope with the drop in income that often follows the onset of a disability.
I recommend that David receives a thorough benefit check from an experienced benefits adviser. He may also wish to consult a free debt adviser.
Information about benefits can be obtained from the Department for Work & Pensions (see link on right).
Advice and information about benefits, social services help and other rights of carers from Carersonline on 0808 808 7777 or Carersonline.org.uk (see link on right).
Carersonline can also direct him to local advice organisations which can help with benefit claims or to negotiate with his creditors.
A directory of local Citizens' Advice Bureaux can be found on its website (see link on right).
The Community Legal Service has a directory of solicitors and advice organisations (see link on right) or local independent advice centres can be found through Advice UK's website.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.