Choosing the right care home

Choosing a care home is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. You need to make sure it’s where you’ll be happy, at an affordable price.

What type of care homes are there?

Top tip

It’s not something most people like to think about, but when choosing a care home you need to recognise that your care needs are likely to increase over time.

Care homes are run by local authorities, private firms and voluntary organisations.

They need to be approved by the appropriate regulatory body in your country.

Some offer accommodation and help with personal care, while others offer nursing care too. Some specialise in mental illness, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Alternatives to a care home could include sheltered housing or extra care housing.

What type of care do you need?

If you’re in poor health, you might need a great deal of care.

If you’re relatively fit and mobile, you probably won’t need full-time nursing care, at least not for the foreseeable future.

For most people, they need something in between. A local authority care needs assessment will confirm this.

Features and benefits Sheltered accommodation Residential care home Nursing care home
Registered with regulatory body Yes Yes Yes
Self-contained living Yes No No
Staff on site Warden or Manager Yes Yes
24/7 Security alarms Yes Yes Yes
Suitable for disabled residents Some Some Yes
Nursing or medical care provided No No Available 24/7
Level of care Low Moderate High
Dependency needs Low Moderate High
Pets allowed Some Some Some
Average cost From £8,500 a year From around £30,000 a year From around £40,000 a year
What’s included in residential fees? Varies, but might include: social events/activities, communal areas, estate management, on-site warden, and ‘meals on wheels’. 24-hr staff availability, help with dressing and bathing, food, social events/activities, and communal areas. 24-hr nursing and personal care, food, social events/activities, and communal areas.

Choosing a care home – checklist

Your local authority (or Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland) should be able to give you a list of suitable care homes in your area.

Local charities or support groups might be able to help too, as can your national regulatory body

  • Make a shortlist of suitable care homes in your area that are within your budget.
  • The cost of care varies from region to region – you could save money by relocating.
  • Ask for an information pack from the homes on your shortlist.
  • Ask for a copy of their contracts and/or terms and conditions.
  • Make sure they have vacancies or find out how long their waiting list is.
  • Check how much notice you need to give if you move out and how much notice you’ll get if there are plans for the home to close.
  • If your funding is local authority-assisted, check that they’ll accommodate you at the local authority rate or whether you’ll need to pay a top-up.
  • Ask what extras you might have to pay for that aren’t covered in your residential fees.

Check the care home’s official inspection report

You can check the homes’ ratings and their most recent inspection report with the following organisations.

Arrange to visit the homes on your shortlist

Before visiting any care homes, you need to be very clear about what it is you’re looking for.

Make a checklist of the things that are important to you, plus a list of questions to ask the managers and staff.

It’s important not to feel embarrassed – you’re about to make a life-changing decision.

Your checklist could be extensive. Here are a few ideas:

  • Are you allowed to keep pets?
  • When and how long are visiting hours?
  • Does the home offer communal activities?
  • How many staff are employed per resident?
  • Are there enough handrails and mobility aids?
  • Can all your food and dietary requirements be met?
  • How much space is there for your own possessions?
  • Do the residents appear to have similar care needs to you?
  • Would the home agree to a trial period to see if you like it?
  • Will you have access to private telephones and the internet?
  • Does the home have the bathing and toilet facilities you need?
  • How easy is it to access GP’s, dentists, opticians and other health services?
  • If you needed nursing care in the future, would the home be able to provide it?
  • What arrangements are made for handling your personal money and valuables?
  • Can the care home provide the level of care you require both now and in the future as your needs may increase over time? Do staff have the necessary skills?

How much is it going to cost?

Care home fees vary considerably around the country.

However, on average you should expect to pay approximately £30,000 a year for a residential care home and £40,000 if nursing care is required.

To find out the average annual care home fees where you live, use PayingForCare’s Residential care costs calculator.

They also have a calculator that answers the question Will the state help you pay?

Your local council might be able to help with costs depending on your circumstances.

Find out more in our guide on Local authority funding for care costs – do you qualify?

More information

Download the FirstStop Advice guide – Choosing and Paying for a Care Homeopens in new window or call them to discuss your options on 0800 377 7070 (Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm).

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