THOUSANDS of carers in Hartlepool are missing out on the financial support they deserve.
Experts say there are 9,839 people in the Hartlepool local authority area who care for a loved one, but two thirds don't see themselves as carers.
Officials at NHS service Carers Direct want people to get the support which is rightfully theirs.
They say one in 10 people in the town take care of an elderly parent or disabled family member.
But 6,621 of them do not register with health or care organisations, even though they spend 20 hours or more a week looking after loved ones.
A campaign is now being launched for the hidden majority to access the help available.
Dame Philippa Russell, chairwoman of the Standing Commission of Carers, said: "So many of us take on the role of carer without even knowing it.
"Often it starts with offering to help an elderly relative with shopping, or checking if they've taken their medication.
"But before you know it, you're with them several hours or more a week –and, as their ability to look after themselves deteriorates, they rely on you even more."
Television doctor Hilary Jones is lending support to the campaign. He said: "Carers can often neglect their own health and wellbeing, as the person they care for is their main priority."
The project has the backing of a whole host of celebrities.
Actor David Jason said: "I know how difficult it can be to give of one's time and patience on an ongoing basis and I acknowledge the sterling support they give and the sacrifices they make."
Television and radio celebrity Paul O'Grady said: "Just one call to the helpline could make a difference, not only for loved ones, but for the carer themselves."
TV presenter Tony Robinson has personal experience of caring and said: "When I was helping to care for my parents, I found it difficult to know where to turn to get hold of the information I needed."
Choreographer Arlene Phillips helped to look after her father when he was suffering from dementia.
She said: "Though you want to ensure your loved ones are cared for, it can become a strain. So many people around the UK care for family members and friends and they don't realise that there is a lot of support – both emotional and financial – available to them."
The Carers Direct helpline is available for those wanting to find out more, on 0808 802 02 02.