The hidden army of Westcountry carers have missed out on tens of millions in unclaimed benefits, a study shows.
Carers Allowance totalling more than £31 million went unclaimed in the Westcountry last year as 10,223 people missed out on vital payments to help them support struggling relatives.
More than £1.3 billion in benefits was not taken up nationally and £77 million across the greater South West region, a campaign group has calculated.
In Cornwall 3,166 carers should have received £9.8 million compared to the 6,332 people and £19.6 million which went begging in Devon.
The record numbers losing out on vital financial support are due to a lack of advice, according to the charity Carers UK.
With rapidly rising costs of living hitting caring families hard, the charity says a lack of financial support is putting many at risk of long-term debt and financial hardship.
Helena Herklots, chief executive of Carers UK, said: "If you suddenly need to provide full-time care for an older, ill or disabled loved one, your life can be turned upside-down.
"When their welfare is your top priority, looking after your own finances can easily fall by the wayside.
"If carers have been forced to give up work to care, just as the family face all the extra household and transport costs of caring – this can rapidly push carers into long-term debt and financial hardship.
"This financial pressure is all too often exacerbated by a lack of advice for carers leading to long delays in them accessing essential support like Carer's Allowance.
"It is vital that anyone caring for a loved one seeks advice to check they are getting all the financial help and practical support they are entitled to."
The findings are part of research published on Friday, to coincide with national Carers Rights Day.
It showed that across the UK some 360,000 full-time carers fail to claim the main benefit for those caring for older, seriously ill or disabled loved ones.
In a survey of over 3,500 carers across the UK, 42% said they had missed out on financial support as a result of a lack of advice and information.
Almost 6 in 10 (57%) of those missed out for more than two years – resulting in the loss of thousands of pounds in income.
The survey highlighted how 40% carers in debt as a result of caring – one in seven owing more than £10,000
Almost half of carers cut back on food and heating and one in five rely on overdrafts or credit cards to make ends meet.