If your relative is finding it difficult to carry out their personal care routines – such as washing or dressing – domiciliary care (also known as home care services) can provide the extra support that they need.

On this page you can find information about different aspects of care in the home, including:

1. The expressions we use
How domiciliary care services can help
3. How private care agencies or individuals can help
4. Home care agencies vs home help
5. When to consider domiciliary care
6. Alternatives to home care

The expressions we use

In this guide we refer to the following expressions, and provide alternative names, that you may come across:

  • Carer or family carer: a relative or friend of the person who requires support. 
  • Careworker: a professional worker who provides domiciliary care.
  • Domiciliary care/home care: describes care services that support and enable people to live at home and in their local community. This type of service used to be described as 'home help' many years ago. Home help is now used to describe domestic care.
  • Personal assistant: a worker employed by the person who requires support and who provides care services.

How domiciliary care services can help

Domiciliary care services provide careworkers or personal assistants who can visit your relative at home to help with a wide range of jobs, including

  • getting out of bed in the morning
  • washing
  • dressing
  • maintaining personal appearance, such as brushing your relative’s hair
  • help and support with toileting, helping using continence aids
  • preparing meals and drinks
  • help with eating and drinking
  • picking up prescriptions
  • giving, or prompting to take, prescribed medication
  • health-related tasks, as agreed with medical practitioners or community nursing nurses
  • nursing care from a registered nurse
  • shopping (either with, or on behalf of, your relative)
  • collecting pensions
  • helping with money, managing and paying bills
  • getting out of the house and meeting friends
  • supervision and companionship
  • getting settled for the evening and going to bed.

How private care agencies or individuals can help

Your relative might also benefit from private care agencies or individuals to help with:

  • cleaning: regular kitchen or bathroom cleaning or one-off spring cleans, vacuuming the home or cleaning floors, tidying and dusting
  • doing the washing-up
  • laundry
  • dog-walking
  • gardening
  • general home maintenance.

The level of support and care in the home that each person needs will vary. Your relative might need assistance with some, or all, of the above tasks; they might need care for only one hour a week, a couple of hours a day, or to have a full-time or live-in careworker.

Home care services can be used temporarily – for example, while your relative recovers from an illness or operation – or long term. One of the benefits of home care services is their flexibility, which allows your relative to choose the right level of help and support for them.

Home care agencies versus home help

In this guide we look at home care agencies (providing personal care) and home help (providing help with practical household tasks) separately. Local authorities tend to focus their limited budgets on home care agencies rather than home help services.

'If you're looking for a nursing home, look for a small one. If you're looking for a care agency, look for a big one with a lot of staff.' Jo's story

Local authorities have an obligation to provide some services, including personal care or preparing meals for those who have no other way of getting a meal, but they are unlikely, in most cases, to provide help with household tasks except where it is part of a more complex care arrangement. If your relative needs help with cleaning and gardening, or personal assistance to help with shopping and paying bills, it is likely that they will have to look elsewhere, although local authorities can be helpful in providing advice and information.

Our Care services directory includes links to the services that local authorities provide for older people. Enter the name of your relative's local authority in the search box and then click on the local authority services tab.

When to consider domiciliary care

Your relative might want to consider domiciliary care, either through a home care agency or home help services, if: 

  • they are finding it difficult to cope with daily routines, such as washing, dressing or getting out and about
  • they prefer not to move into sheltered housing or a care home
  • their property still meets their needs and is suitable and safe for them to live in (or can be adapted to suit).

Your relative's need for help might come suddenly, as a result of an illness or fall, or their situation may have been changing gradually over time. Whatever the reason, if your relative is considering care at home, the first step is to get a free needs assessment from the social services department of your local authority.

Even if your relative plans to arrange or pay for home care services themselves, a needs assessment is really important. It gives a professional assessment of the type of care and support needed, and can make you aware of a range of options you may not have known were available.

Alternatives to home care

Many home care services can support people with medical and complex needs to live at home, as agreed with medical practitioners or community nursing nurses. This means that people can choose to remain living at home, supported by home care, rather than move into a care home.   

If your relative wants the reassurance of knowing someone is around 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it might be worth considering other options to supplement or instead of daily home care.

  • Live in care, where a careworker lives in their client’s home to enable their needs to be met.
  • Telecare and assistive technologies can operate 24/7 and provide extra support in between careworkers’ visits providing homecare.
  • Sheltered housing may offer warden services and telecare.
  • Extra care housing may offer 24/7 emergency support and some schemes include help with personal care, either as part of the arrangement or as an additional item to be paid for separately.
  • A care home provides residential accommodation, together with nursing or personal care, and is suitable for those who need substantial help with personal or nursing care, and who are prepared to relinquish some of their privacy in exchange for increased support and social contact. A nursing home provides nursing care, for those with a higher level of healthcare need.

The professional care needs assessment should give your relative, and their representatives where appropriate, the opportunity to discuss alternative options and help select the most suitable in the circumstances.

More information

Page last reviewed: August 2016 
Next review due: March 2018