The national charity supporting over 500,000 family carers has called for a national audit to evaluate the availability of respite places nationwide.

Family Carers Ireland says an audit would "pave the way" for an actionable plan to enhance support for this group.

It follows new Census figures which revealed a marked increase in the number of people identifying as family carers.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys today announced the payment of the Carer's Support Grant to around 125,000 carers across the country.

The annual grant of €1,850 is "in recognition" of the key role carers play every day.

However, Family Carers Ireland said while the grant was welcome, the current state of respite services in Ireland is a matter of "serious concern" that demands immediate attention.

Over the years, the number of family carers has increased while the availability and quality of respite care has steadily declined, "leaving many in a precarious situation".

Census 2022 figures published by the Central Statistics Office this week show that over 299,000 people identified as family carers, an increase of 53% when compared to Census 2016.

Family Carers Ireland believes the true number of people with caring roles exceeds 500,000 as many do not identify as family carers.

It says the concerning trend places "an overwhelming burden" on family carers who provide care for their loved ones with limited or zero opportunities for a break.

It is calling for a minimum annual entitlement of 20 days of respite for full-time family carers in line with the statutory leave afforded to paid employees.

It also wants the establishment of a respite register which it believes is "crucial" for effective resource allocation and service improvements while ensuring that family carers receive the support they require to maintain their well-being and avoid burnout.

Head of Communications and Policy with Family Carers Ireland, Catherine Cox said the lack of support services, limited access to respite care, extensive waiting lists for assessments and lack of future planning for residential care needs have become sources of "immense frustration and distress" for families.

In a statement, she said: "The absence of adequate support systems leaves many families feeling overwhelmed in their efforts to care for their loved ones."

"It is crucial that we address these systemic issues and prioritise the well-being of these families, ensuring timely access to vital services and supports."

Meanwhile, the home care sector is negotiating a new tender with the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health to agree rates and conditions for home care provision for the next number of years.

Tender 2023 will set out how the sector will operate for the next several years and has the potential to introduce important reforms ahead of the planned statutory scheme for home care expected next year.

The previous tender was agreed in 2018 and was due for renegotiation in 2022.

However, the HSE postponed renegotiation until the end of 2022.

In December 2022, they sought another extension of the interim agreement until April 2023. Another extension was sought until the end of this month.

In May, Home and Community Care Ireland (HCCI) and National Community Care Network (NCCN – the representative body for non-profit providers) said the Tender 2023 process was "destabilising the home care sector".

The providers said they could not properly plan or introduce meaningful wage increases for staff.

Prior to the latest extension being sought, the sector said it was offered a rate of €28.50 per hour, which according to HCCI and NCCN, was significantly below average costings given by both organisations to provide a quality service to clients, as well as living wage and mileage to carers.

It is understood that negotiations between the HSE and care providers are ongoing.