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If you are thinking about choosing a care home with or on behalf of a loved one, here’s what you need to know.

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

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

1. Get a care needs assessment

At the same time as exploring residential care options, it’s important to ensure the person you are caring for has a free needs assessment from their social services department. It’s especially vital if you think they might need financial help from the local authority as councils will only fund care that someone has been assessed as needing.

But it’s also worth having the assessment done even if your relative ends up paying for their own care. It gives a professional assessment of the type of care and support needed, which will help you choose a suitable care home. It can also make you aware of other care services available in your area that you might not have considered before.

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2. Talk through the options

Before you start shorlisting any care homes, sit down with your relative (and as long as he or she is able to have such conversations), and discuss what’s important to them. This might involve location, facilities or specialist care for a specific health problem. What do they consider ‘essential’, and what is considered ‘desirable’?  You might want to include other close family members or friends in this conversation. See, too, our guide to Talking about care options.

Additional questions are more than likely to arise as you look for the right home (and see also our downloadable checklist of questions to ask a care home at the foot of this page), but you can at least use this conversation as a starting point.

Although this page is focused on people looking for a care home for a family member or friend, we recognise that you could be looking for a care home for yourself. If this is the case, it’s just as important to think about what you want when you move to a care home. If possible, talk to family, a friend or a carer to help focus your thoughts.

3. Shortlist suitable care homes 

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

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

Where a care home has a website, we also give you a link to it. It’s always worth spending some time browsing the websites to get more of a feel for the homes as you think about which ones you are going shortlist. However, there is nothing to beat a visit to a care home to get a full picture as to the reality of what it's like to live in residential care.

4. Read the 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. In England and Scotland, the care regulators also rate the care comes. 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.

5. 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.

6. Contact suitable care homes

Contact your shortlisted care homes and talk specifics from the first phone call. Discuss how the home can meet your relative’s specific needs directly with the overall manager of the home. Ask the home to be upfront about the fees too, even if they’re reluctant. This will help avoid wasted visits. They will want to know if your relative is self-funding, local authority funded, or a mixture. It could be that you don’t know this yet, in which case explain the situation. Also enquire about availability of places.

Finding out about cost and room availability, will help you eliminate any homes that aren’t suitable either because they are out of your price range or are lacking spaces.

Ask them to send you written details of costs together with a brochure and check who you’re meeting (this should preferably be the care home manager), and confirm the appointment before you set off.

7. Visit the care homes

It’s important to visit all the homes on your shortlist so that you can get as much information as you can.

We cover this in a separate article - Visiting 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 the care home contract, your relative's potential room and what else happens in and around the home. Download our checklist of questions to ask when choosing a care home (see below).

If possible, visit the care homes with the person you are caring for, but if that’s not possible go with another family member or friend. If your relative is unable to visit, ask a representative from the home to visit them and talk things through.

Downloadable checklist of questions to ask when visiting a care home

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

More information

Page last reviewed: January 2018