Which? uses cookies to improve our sites and by continuing you agree to our cookies policy.

When it comes to choosing a care home for a loved one, you’ll naturally want to do everything in your power to make sure their needs are met and they will be happy living there.

On this page, you can find information about how best to choose a care home:

1. Get a care needs assessment
2. Shortlist suitable care homes
3. Check care home inspection reports
4. Ask friends and family for recommendations
5. Contact suitable care homes
6. Visit the care homes

1. Get a care needs assessment

If your relative is considering moving to a residential care home or a nursing home, the first step is to get a free needs assessment from the social services department of your local authority. 

The needs assessment is especially vital if your relative needs financial help from the local authority, as councils will only fund care that your relative has been assessed as needing. 

Help us improve care

Have you had experience of a care home behaving in an unfair, unclear or misleading way? Have you found that a care home has had unexpected charges or fees, or unclear contract terms? Which? wants to hear about your experiences. Share your story using our tool.

Even if your relative plans to arrange, or pay for, a care home themselves, a needs assessment is very important. It gives a professional assessment of the type of care and support needed, which will help your relative choose a care home best suited to their needs. It can also make you aware of other care services available in your area that you might not have considered before. 

2. Shortlist suitable care homes 

Use our  Care services directory to find care homes in your chosen area that provide the type of care your relative needs. You can filter for homes that offer residential care or nursing care as well as looking for those homes that offer more specialist support, such as for dementia or physical disabilities. 

We give you information for all registered care homes in the UK, which includes contact details, a link to the home's website and, in England, a link to the latest inspection report from the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

3. Check care home inspection reports

In the UK there are four watchdogs charged with inspecting and reporting on care providers. The reports are publicly available and give valuable insight into how well a home is managed and the level of care. You can also use the reports to see if:

  • points raised by inspectors have been addressed or whether they reappear on subsequent reports
  • high staff turnover is mentioned, which could indicate unsettled, unhappy staff
  • inspections have occurred frequently, which may be a sign of problems.

To find out more about the regulators and their reports, see Quality and regulation of care homes.

4. Ask friends and family for recommendations

Does anyone that you know have a relative or friend who is already in a care home? A recommendation from a happy resident is worth its weight in gold.

5. Contact suitable care homes

Contact your shortlisted care homes and ask them to send you a brochure and written details of costs, explaining if your relative is self-funding or local authority funded. Also enquire about availability of places that suit your relative’s needs. This will help you eliminate any homes that aren’t suitable either because they are out of your price range or are lacking spaces.

6. Visit the care homes

Try to visit all the homes on your shortlist, making an appointment to meet the care home manager. When you visit a care home it’s important to get as much information as you can. 

  • It is essential that you find out about the details about the care home contract you will be asked to sign.
  • Also, read our article Questions to ask when choosing a care home, to get you thinking about what’s important, ranging from practical issues, such as what social activities are on offer, through to questions about your relative's potential room and what else happens in and around the home.

Where possible, both you and your relative should go together. If your relative is unable to visit, ask a representative from the home to visit them and talk things through.

Which? guide to helping loved ones in later life

If you are looking for ways to help a relative stay living at home for longer, or need to find out about the different care options available, this downloadable guide explains your choices and how to find out more. It offers an introduction to choosing sheltered or residential care, plus advice on choosing the best products to aid independent living.

More information

Page last reviewed: December 2016
Next review due: July 2019