Cookies at Which? We use cookies to help improve our sites. If you continue, we'll assume that you're happy to accept our cookies. Find out more about cookies

Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions when you visit care homes: the more information you have, the more confident you will feel in helping your relative to make the best choice.

On this page you will find information about:

1. Questions relating to practical issues
2. Questions about your relative's potential room
3. Questions to ask about the rest of the home
4. Before finally committing

We give advice about checking care home contracts separately.

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.

Before visiting the home, sit down with your relative and discuss what’s important to them, this might involve location, facilities or specialist care for a specific health problem. What does she or he consider ‘essential’, and what is considered ‘desirable’? 

Using this conversation as a starting point - there might well be additional questions to those on this page that you want answers to.

There is a downloadable checklist as the foot of this page, which also includes questions to ask about care home contracts.

Practical issues

  • When would space be available? Is there a waiting list?
  • What level of care is available? Can special care needs be met, even during the night? If your relative’s condition should worsen (for example, they needed nursing care rather than just personal care), could the care home provide this?
  • What social activities are on offer for residents to take part in?
  • Location: what’s the surrounding area like, and is it easy for friends and family to reach by car or public transport?
  • Are there set visiting times for guests?
  • Are children welcome?
  • Is there any option for guests to stay overnight?
  • Can guests stay for meals? What are the charges for this?
  • What checks are in place to stop unwanted people coming in, or residents from wandering out?
  • Can residents go to their room when they wish to be alone?
  • Are residents allowed pets?
  • Is there somewhere safe and secure where your relative could keep valuables, such as ID, credit cards, money and jewellery?
  • If you, or your relative, are unhappy with any aspect of care, what is the procedure for giving feedback or raising complaints?

If there's anything that you haven't understood on the care home inspection report, now is the time to discuss this too.

Your relative's potential room

  • Can you look at the room your relative might be offered? Would it be possible for them to move rooms later, if they wanted?
  • Could they bring their own furniture and possessions? How much space is there?
  • Are there private/en suite toilet and bathroom facilities? Are they suitably adapted?
  • Is there a telephone point in the room, or somewhere that your relative could make private phone calls?
  • Is there an emergency call system available in each room?
  • Are the corridors/toilets wide enough for a walking frame or wheelchair?

In and around the home

  • How many staff are on duty during the day and at night? Do there seem to be enough staff on duty when you’re there? Are they friendly? Do they make time to talk to individual residents?
  • Who provides the food? Can you see a menu or even sample a meal while you are there?
  • Are mealtimes flexible?
  • Where is food served? Could your relative eat in their room if they preferred?
  • Is there a garden/outdoor space for residents?
  • Is there a communal lounge with or without TV?
  • Are there smoking and non-smoking areas?
  • Are there enough toilets within easy reach of the bedrooms and living area?
  • If your relative has reduced mobility, are all areas of the care home (their room, communal areas) easily accessible? Are there grab rails in the bathroom, for example, if needed? Are they secure?
  • Is there a private room, other than bedrooms, where residents can meet guests?
  • Is there a residents committee? 

It can be very useful to visit a home with another relative or friend. One of you can focus on talking to staff/having the official tour, and the other can have a look around the place and talk to residents away from the staff. Even the smell of the home can affect the way you think about it, and it’s helpful to be able to discuss this sort of thing with someone else after the visit.

Before finally committing

After you and, where possible, your relative have chosen the care home you think will be suitable, there are a couple of things you might like to do to ensure the choice you have made is the right one.

Make a surprise visit

It can be useful to make a second unannounced visit. You can see how the staff interact with the residents, how many people are around, and what activities are going on. Of course, this won't always be practical or possible, but it's worth doing if you can.

Arrange a trial stay at the care home

If your relative wants to see what living in a care home is like, it might be possible to arrange a trial stay. Everyone is different, so only do this if you think your relative would understand the reasons for the visit and benefit from it. If you're interested in this, ask if it's possible when you visit.

You might also be able to arrange a short-term stay for respite care to give you or another carer a break. This could be a good opportunity for your relative to see what it's like to be in a care home, even if it's only for a week or two.

Downloadable checklist

Use the link below to download our checklist to take with you when visiting a care home.

More information

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