Background/objective: Because informal health care is now recognized to be indispensable to health care systems, different forms of respite care have been developed and publicly funded that supposedly alleviate caregivers' perceived burdens and help prolong the care giving task. Nonetheless, the use of respite care services is low even among substantially strained caregivers. To throw light on this low usage, this paper explores the associations between attitudes towards respite care, characteristics of the care giving situation, and the need and use of respite care. Method: The survey, administered to a sample of 273 informal caregivers, addressed caregiver, care recipient, and care giving situation characteristics, as well as the familiarity and use of respite care services. It also included a sub-set of 12 statements eliciting attitudes towards respite care from an earlier study [Van Exel NJA, De Graaf G, Brouwer WBF. Care for a break? An investigation of informal caregivers' attitudes toward respite care using Q-methodology. Health Policy 2007;83(2/3):332-42]. Associations between variables were measured using univariate statistics and multinomial logistic regression. Results: We found three caregiver attitudes, distributed fairly equally in the sample, that are apparently associated with caregiver educational level, employment status, health and happiness, as well as care recipient gender, duration and intensity of care giving, relationship, co-residence, need for surveillance, and subjective burden and process utility of care giving. However, the relation between attitude and familiarity with and use of respite care services is ambiguous. Conclusions: Although further exploration is needed of the mix of Q-methodology and survey analysis, the overall results indicate that a considerable portion of the caregiver population needs but does not readily ask for support or respite care. This finding has important policy implications in the context of an ageing population. © 2008 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.