Your guide to care and support

Care homes

If you're looking for a residential care home, there's a huge variety of options available. There are permanent care homes for older people, homes for younger adults with disabilities, and homes for children.

Care homes may be privately owned or run by charities or councils. Some will be small care homes based in home-like domestic dwellings, while others will be based in large communal centres.

One of the first options you have to consider when choosing residential care is whether you need the care home to provide nursing care, or just standard personal care.

Consider other options for care first

Going into a care home is a major commitment for your future – it involves changing where you live and potentially committing to paying a considerable amount of money for your ongoing accommodation and care needs.

Before you opt for a move to a care home, you should think about other less disruptive – and potentially less costly – options, including:

You should also consider whether you really need the amount of care on offer at a care home, and look at alternatives such as "extra care" housing schemes or warden-controlled sheltered accommodation. These options offer independence with an increased level of care and support.

Personal care or nursing care?

Care homes for older people may provide personal care or nursing care. A care home registered to provide personal care will offer support, ensuring basic personal needs are taken care of. A care home providing personal care only can assist you with meals, bathing, going to the toilet and taking medication, if you need this sort of help. Find care homes without nursing.

Some residents may need nursing care, and some care homes are registered to provide this. These are often referred to as nursing homes. For example, a care home might specialise in certain types of disability or conditions such as dementia. Find care homes with nursing.

Care homes for adults aged 18 to 65

There are also residential care homes that provide care and support for younger adults with, for example, severe physical disabilities, learning disabilities, brain injury resulting from an accident, or mental health problems.

They can care for adults with more than one condition, and some homes will have expertise in providing care for adults with alcohol or drug dependency. These care homes may offer permanent residence or provide care for a temporary period.

Residential care for children and adolescents

Some care homes specialise in providing residential care for children with physical disabilities, learning disabilities or emotional problems.

Residential special schools focus on education and provide teaching on-site.

In some cases, care homes for children offer "transition" support for young people until they reach their early 20s.

Choice of care home

The law says that where the local authority is funding accommodation, it must allow a person entering residential care to choose which care home they would prefer, within reason.

Social services must first agree the home is suitable for your needs and it would not cost more than you would normally pay for a home that would meet those needs.

Local authority help with the cost of residential care is means-tested. You are free to make your own arrangements if you can afford the long-term cost. However, it is worth asking the local authority for a financial assessment, because it might pay some or all of your care costs.

In the financial assessment, the local authority can only take into account income and assets you own. The local authority cannot ask members of your family to pay for the basic cost of your care. Read more about local authority funding for care and funding your own care.

If you choose a care home that costs more than the local authority usually expects to pay for a person with your needs, you may still be able to live in the care home if a relative or friend is willing and able to pay the difference between what the local authority pays and the amount the care home charges – this is known as a "top-up" fee.

However, if their situation changes and they are no longer able to pay the top-up, the local authority may have no obligation to continue to fund the more expensive care home place and you may have to move out. It is worth thinking about this potentially difficult situation when deciding on care home options. Read more about topping up.

Do not cancel your tenancy or sell your home until the final decision has been made by the local authority. The value of your home must not be included in the local authority's means-testing until 12 weeks after you've confirmed that the care home placement will be permanent.

The Care Act 2014 is changing how people are able to pay for their own care, introducing the right for you to ask for the local authority to pay for the cost of your care while you try to sell your home. This is known as a "deferred payment scheme".

Choosing a care home if you're funding your own care

If you are funding your own care, you have a great deal of options, and you will need to do a lot of research on which care home provides the best options for you in terms of its cost, location, services, and a host of other potential factors. Read on for tips on choosing your care home.

One of the best places to start is by searching a directory of care homes with nursing, or searching a directory of care homes without nursing.

Choosing a care home if you're having care provided by the local authority

After a needs assessment from social services, you will be provided with a care plan, which should make clear whether you need residential care and what other options, if any, might be available and most appropriate based on your needs.

Even if you're unlikely to be eligible for financial help with residential care home fees, it could still be worth involving social services. The needs assessment, and information they provide, are likely to be very helpful in making decisions about care.

Tips on choosing a care home

  • Check the most recent inspection report to see how well the care home is doing and if there is anything of concern. You can get inspection reports by searching for the care home on the Care Quality Commission website or Ofsted for children's care homes.
  • Consider the location of a care home. Is the care home near family and friends? Are there shops, leisure or educational facilities in the area? Is the area noisy?
  • Is the care home focused on the residents' individual needs, or do they insist that residents adapt to their routine? 
  • What arrangements are there for visitors? Can residents come and go as they please, as far as it is safe to do so? Are staff able to help residents to go out? Are outings arranged?
  • What involvement would you have in the care home? How would you communicate with staff? Are there any support groups or regular meetings?
  • If safety and security are issues, what arrangements or supervision can the care home provide? 
  • Will the care home meet your specific religious, ethnic, cultural or social needs? Will the correct diet be provided? Will the right language be spoken? Will there be opportunities to participate in religious activities? Do they allow pets?
  • When you are choosing accommodation it may be a lifelong decision, so you may want to think about planning for end of life care at the same time.
  • You might also want to check what people who have used the care home say about it from online feedback and review services, such as those put together on NHS Choices.
  • Ask for a temporary stay in the care home before you decide. Temporary stays in care homes can also be arranged in certain circumstances, such as after a stay in hospital.

A good care home will:

  • offer new residents and their families or carers a guide (in a variety of accessible formats) describing what they can expect while they're living there
  • have staff who have worked there for a long time, know the residents well, and are friendly, supportive and respectful
  • employ well-trained staff, particularly where specialist care such as dementia nursing is required
  • involve residents, carers and their families in decision-making
  • support residents in doing things for themselves and maximising their independence
  • offer a choice of tasty and nutritious food, and provide a variety of leisure and social activities taking residents' needs into account
  • be a clean, bright and hygienic environment that's adapted appropriately for residents, with single bedrooms available
  • respect residents' privacy, modesty, dignity and choices
  • be accredited under the Gold Standards Framework for end of life care

An unsatisfactory care home might:

  • have a code of practice, but not adhere to it
  • fail to take into account residents' needs and wishes, with most decisions made by staff
  • let residents' care plans become out of date, or fail to reflect their needs accurately
  • have staff who enter residents' rooms without knocking, and talk about residents within earshot of other people
  • deny residents their independence – for example, by not allowing someone to feed themselves because it "takes too long"
  • have staff who don't make an effort to interact with residents and leave them sitting in front of the TV all day
  • be in a poorly maintained building, with rooms that all look the same and have little choice in furnishings
  • need cleaning, with shared bathrooms that aren't cleaned regularly

If you move into a care home

When you go into a care home, make sure the management and staff of the home know about your condition, disability and other needs. They may have some of this information already – for example, if the local authority has set up the placement after a care needs assessment.

Moving home can be unsettling at the best of times, so when you move into a care home, it's good to have it planned in advance and have family or friends around you when you move to make you feel more comfortable.

You should also:

  • contact the benefits office, if you have one (including disability benefits, as these can be affected by care home stays)
  • make sure other services at your previous address have been notified
  • let friends and family know your know contact details and when you might feel up to receiving visitors

Rights of care home residents

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the regulator of health and adult social care in England, whether it's provided by the NHS, local authorities, private companies or voluntary organisations.

Under existing rules, independent healthcare and adult social services must be registered with the CQC. NHS providers, such as hospitals and ambulance services, must also be registered.

The registration of organisations reassures the public when they receive a care service or treatment. It also enables the CQC to check that organisations are continuing to meet CQC standards.

Standards for care homes are outlined on the CQC website. These standards are underpinned by regulations governing the quality and safety of services.

The regulations are enforceable by law – the CQC can enforce fines, public warnings, or even suspend or close a service if they believe people's basic rights or safety are at risk.

Care home closures

Care homes will sometimes close. This can be because the owner decides not to carry on providing the service in that location (for instance, if they retire), or because the home has been sold or failed to meet legal standards.

Proposals to close a care home can obviously cause great distress. If the care home is operated by the local authority, it has to follow a consultation process with residents and families.

It may be best to get specialist legal advice in this situation. You can find an appropriate solicitor through the Law Society.

Page last reviewed: 15/01/2015

Next review due: 15/01/2017

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