If you need help around the home, a good option is to have a care worker come in to your home to help you.
Types of homecare
Homecare comes in many forms and has many names used to describe it, including home help, care attendants and "carers" (not to be confused with unpaid family or friends who care for you).
Homecare can suit you if you need:
- personal care, such as washing or dressing
- housekeeping or domestic work, such as vacuuming
- cooking or preparing meals
- nursing and health care
Homecare can be very flexible, in order to meet your needs, and the same person or agency may be able to provide some or all of these options for the duration of your care:
- long-term 24-hour care
- short breaks for an unpaid family carer
- emergency care
- day care
- sessions ranging from 15-minute visits to 24-hour assistance and everything in between
If you already know what you want, you can search NHS Choices directories for:
If you believe that you might benefit from some help at home, the first thing to do is to contact your social services department to ask for an assessment of your care and support needs. To contact social services, go to GOV.UK: find your local authority.
If you are eligible for homecare services, the local authority may provide or arrange the help themselves. Alternatively, you can arrange your own care, funded by the local authority, through direct payments or a personal budget.
If you have chosen direct payments or a personal budget, or you aren’t eligible for local authority help and want to get care privately, you can arrange it in several different ways.
Independent homecare agencies
If you use an independent homecare agency, you or the person you're looking after has to find the care agency and pay them.
The agency will provide a service through a trained team of care workers, which means you may not always have the same person visiting your home, although the agency will do its best to take your choices into account. Independent homecare providers are regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Homecare agencies must meet CQC’s national minimum standards and regulations in areas such as training and record-keeping. The CQC has the power to inspect agencies and enforce standards.
Homecare agencies must vet homecare workers before engaging them by taking up references and carrying out Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks on potential employees. Homecare agencies can also:
- take over the burden of being an employer – for example, payroll, training, disciplinary issues and insurance
- train their homecare workers through national qualifications and service-specific training
- replace workers when they are ill, on holiday or resign
- put things right when they go wrong
An agency will want to see you and the person you're looking after so that they can assess your needs. This also means that a joint decision can be made about the most appropriate type of care and support.
You can find out more from the UK Homecare Association.
What are the disadvantages of using a homecare agency?
The main disadvantage is the cost of using an agency. The agency will charge a fee on top of the payment made to the care worker to cover their running costs and profit.
You normally have to make a regular payment to the agency, which includes both the worker’s earnings and the agency’s fee.
Questions to ask when using a homecare agency
The fees some agencies charge can be quite high. Before deciding to go ahead with an agency, you should ask questions about the fee and what it covers, including:
- Does the agency check references?
- What training and supervision do they provide?
- What is their complaints policy?
- Who will be responsible for insurance?
- Is there any out-of-hours or emergency contact if needed?
- Will they be able to provide staff if your own care worker is ill or away? (If an agency contracts to provide care every day, it must ensure that it does.)
Hiring a personal assistant
You can hire a "personal assistant" to act as a homecare worker for you.
Personal assistants can offer you all that you’ll get from an agency worker, but you’ll also get the continuity, familiarity and ongoing relationship with your assistant.
However, if you employ a personal assistant, you will then have the legal responsibility of an employer. This will include arranging cover for their illness and holidays.
GOV.UK has more information on becoming an employer, while Which? Elderly Care also has advice on employing private individuals.
Homecare from charities
Charities such as Age UK and Carers Trust can provide home help and domestic assistance services. The Carers Trust supports carers by giving them a break from their caring responsibilities through homecare services.
Marie Curie Nurses can provide practical and emotional support for people near the end of their lives in their own homes.
Safeguarding vulnerable groups
The DBS makes decisions about who is unsuitable to work or volunteer with vulnerable adults or children. It makes this decision based on information held by various agencies and government departments.
The service decides who is unsuitable to work or volunteer with vulnerable adults or children.
If someone who is barred from working with children or vulnerable adults is working, volunteering or trying to work or volunteer with these groups, they are breaking the law. They could face a fine and up to five years in prison.
Employers must apply for an enhanced DBS check (formerly known as a CRB check) when taking on new employees or volunteers to work with vulnerable adults or children. This includes a check of the barred lists. If an organisation fails to make the relevant checks, they can be penalised.
If an organisation dismisses an employee or volunteer for harming a child or vulnerable adult, they must tell the DBS. The DBS must also be notified if any employee or volunteer harms a child or vulnerable adult, but isn't dismissed because they leave voluntarily. If their organisation does not tell DBS, they will be acting illegally.
Questions can be answered by the DBS call centre on 0870 909 0811, or by email.
Employing a care worker on a private basis
If you employ a care worker privately, you will not be obliged to use the DBS scheme, but you can use it if you choose to. You need to ask social services or the police to make the checks on your behalf. The care worker must have already applied to be vetted, and must consent to the check.
If you have concerns about the suitability of someone you employ privately to work with a vulnerable adult or child, you can ask social services to investigate the matter. They can refer the worker to the ISA on your behalf.
If you need help to move, or you need someone to lift you (such as getting out of bed or getting on to the toilet), this can put the person doing the lifting at risk of injury.
This "manual handling" can result in back pain and in the most serious cases, permanent disability if not done correctly.
The law says that employers must take reasonable precautions to ensure their employees don't do any manual handling that carries a risk of them being injured. This applies to you if you directly employ a personal assistant to care for you (but most likely will not if you hire someone through an agency). It is particularly important to consider insurance in this situation. This would cover any risk of the care worker injuring themselves, as well as any risk of them causing an injury.
There are rules around the risk assessments you need to carry out, and the Health and Safety Executive produces advice on safe manual handling (PDF, 443kb).
Read more about moving and handling another person.