Aged care respite is increasingly being used as a "try before you buy" service, limiting access for elderly Australians whose family carers need a break.
Advocacy group Carers Australia wants the federal government to fix a serious shortage of respite accommodation so informal carers can take short breaks, arguing it should not wait for the aged care royal commission's report.
Its national policy manager Sue Elderton said respite ended up at the "bottom of the heap" amid the many pressing issues in aged care, despite carers being hailed as "unsung heroes".
"Everybody loves carers but that doesn't necessarily mean in a very competitive environment for the tax dollar that they're going to put a lot of funding into supporting them," she told AAP.
"After all, they're not going to walk off the job."
Ms Elderton said it was getting harder and harder to access respite in residential aged care facilities, while other types of respite such as cottage-style accommodation also needed to be made more readily available.
She said respite care in residential aged care was increasingly being used by people trying out or "road testing" facilities, as well as those waiting for their financial arrangements to be sorted out following 2014 changes introducing new means testing for permanent care residents.
"Both of those options are more attractive to aged care providers than providing respite care because they're going to get a permanent resident out of it," she said.
Ms Elderton said the subsidies for respite were very low compared to those for permanent care.
An Aged Care Financing Authority report in November identified a noticeable uptake in the use of residential respite care in recent years, amid a "try before you buy" trend that may be crowding out people living at home with genuine respite needs.
Ms Elderton said Carers Australia wanted the government to implement ACFA's recommendations for a new funding model, including making the subsidies for respite at least equivalent to those for permanent placements.
Ms Elderton said the issue should not put on hold pending the royal commission's recommendations, although she noted the government was also looking at complex issues around overall aged care funding.
"The respite issue and anything else that supports the carers to keep on caring shouldn't be at the bottom of the heap of pressing issues in aged care."
The aged care royal commission will focus on the needs of family and other unpaid carers during a three-day public hearing beginning Monday in Mildura in regional Victoria.
Ms Elderton said unpaid family and friend carers were most concerned about what was happening to the people they cared for, but they needed support of their own.
Australian Associated Press