Means tests for help with care costs – how they work

Even if you’ve paid National Insurance contributions all your life, you may have to pay towards the cost of your long-term care. Read our guide to find out how the costs are worked out and whether you’ll have to pay.

Working out who is going to pay for long-term care

National Insurance contributions go towards things like your State Pension but they don’t count towards the costs of social care.

This type of care is managed by your local authority. That is why you have to apply directly to them if you need help with paying for long-term care.

Your local authority (or Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland) will first carry out a care needs assessment to find out what support you need.

The next step is to work out who is going to pay. Your local authority might pay for all of it, part of it or nothing at all.

Your contribution to the cost of your care is decided following a financial assessment, called a means test.

Find out more about the local authority care needs assessment.

How a means test works

The means test looks at:

  • your regular income – such as pensions, benefits or earnings
  • your capital – such as cash savings and investments, land and property (including overseas property), and business assets

If your income and capital are above a certain amount, you will have to pay towards the costs of your care.

If you’re a home owner

If you own your home, the value of it may be counted as capital after 12 weeks if you move permanently into a residential care or nursing home.

However, your home won’t be counted as capital if certain people still live there. They include:

  • your husband, wife, partner or civil partner
  • a close relative who is 60 or over, or incapacitated
  • a close relative under the age of 16 who you’re legally liable to support
  • your ex-husband, ex-wife, ex-civil partner or ex-partner if they are a lone parent

Your local authority or trust might choose not to count your home as capital in other circumstances, for example if your carer lives there.

Means tests for different types of care

Residential Care means test

If you’re moving into a care home and have more than the amounts shown in the table below, you’ll usually have to pay all the care home fees.

This threshold includes the value of your home unless your partner or another dependant still lives there.

Care at Home means test

You can be charged for home care services if you have more than the amounts shown in the table below.

The value of your home is not taken into account when working how much you have to pay.

How your assets and savings affect how much you pay for care

Region Local authority or trust helps pay for care costs if you have assets and savings of*
England less than £23,250
Scotland less than £25,250
Wales** less than £23,750
Northern Ireland less than £23,250

*Your local authority or trust may still take some of your income if you’re below these limits.

**From April 2017 this limit will rise to £30,000 in Wales and is expected to rise further in the future.

Why where you live affects how much you pay for care

The maximum amount you have to pay towards your care is different, depending on where you live in the UK.

The cost of living in residential care can be split into:

  • the hotel costs, including the cost of accommodation and food
  • the personal care costs

The cost of care differs around the United Kingdom. The cost is usually higher where employment costs and housing are more expensive.

In Scotland, the personal care you receive in a care home is free if you’re over 65.

You can find out how your local authority charges for the care services. Find your local council on the GOV.UK website

If you’re in Northern Ireland, find your local Health and Social Care Trust on the nidirect website

Getting rid of assets to avoid paying for care

Case study

“Dad was really worried he’d have to sell the house when Mum went into care for her Alzheimer’s. But because he was still living in the family home, the council didn’t include it in their calculations.” – Fiona

Sometimes, a person deliberately transfers investments or a property’s title deeds to someone else, such as a family member, so they can fall below the threshold and avoid paying the full cost of their care. It’s called deprivation of assets.

However, doing this doesn’t necessarily mean that those assets won’t be taken into account in a means test.

If you have savings and capital and you want to work out the best way of paying for care, you should get advice from an independent financial adviser.

Why it’s important to get a care needs assessment

Even if you believe your care needs aren’t important enough or your income and savings are too high to get help with funding, make sure you get a care needs assessment.

The assessment will give you the chance to discuss your needs with a health or social care professional who can advise you on what help is available.