Your guide to care and support

Homecare: what's available

If you need help around the home, a good option is to have a care worker come into your home to help you.

Types of homecare

Homecare comes in many forms and there are 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
  • help with cooking or preparing meals
  • nursing and healthcare
  • companionship

Homecare can be very flexible. 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 you might benefit from some help at home, the first thing to do is to contact your local authority's social services department to ask for a needs assessment.

If you're 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 choose 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.

These include:

  • using a homecare agency
  • hiring a personal assistant
  • getting homecare from a charity, such as Age UK

Independent homecare agencies

If you use an independent homecare agency, you or the person looking after you 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.

Homecare providers are regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). They must meet the 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're ill, on holiday or resign
  • put things right when they go wrong

An agency will want to see you and the person looking after you so they can assess your needs.

This also means you can make a joint decision about the right type of care and support.

Find out more from the UK Homecare Association.

How much does a homecare agency cost?

Using a homecare agency can be expensive. The agency will charge a fee on top of the payment made to the care worker to cover their running costs and profits.

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

Before deciding to go ahead with an agency, you should ask questions about the fee and what it covers.

These include:

  • Does the agency check references?
  • What training and supervision do they provide?
  • What's their complaints policy?
  • Who's 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 is contracted to provide care every day, it must do that.

Hiring a personal assistant

Instead of using an agency, 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 continuity, familiarity and an ongoing relationship with an assistant.

But if you employ a personal assistant, you have the legal responsibility of an employer. This includes arranging cover for their illness and holidays.

Which? Elderly Care has advice on employing private individuals.

Get more information on becoming an employer

Homecare from charities

Charities such as Age UK and Carers Trust can provide home help.

Carers Trust also 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.

Media last reviewed: 30 Sep 2015

Media review due: 30 Sep 2018

Page last reviewed: 12/01/2018
Next review due: 12/01/2021