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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 about making the best choice.

On this page you will find information about :

1. Questions to ask
2. Visiting the care homes
3. Before finally committing

Questions to ask

Once you’ve shortlisted your care homes, you’ll be looking to make your first visit. Download our checklist of questions and discuss them with the person you're arranging care for (if they are able to do this) and other relevant people, such as family members or close friends, should you wish. There might be additional questions that are important to you. Make sure you write these down.

The following are the questions we recommend you ask a care home, regardless of it being a residential care home or nursing home, to help you get the information you need. For a full list, see the downloadable checklist below.

Fees and costs

  • How much will it cost, and when are the fees due?
  • What do the fees include and exclude?
  • Are residents tied in to the contract for a minimum period?
  • How much notice will be given for fee increases?

If your relative's care is being paid for by the local authority and a care home suggests that a third-party top-up fee could be paid (maybe to help cover the cost of the room or for a room with a better view), explain that you will talk to the local authority about this. Third-party top-up fees should always be a voluntary payment and the contract for this would be between the person paying the top-up fee and the local authority, not the care home.

Care Needs Care Now Campaign

The care system is failing to provide the support that we and our loved ones need. We're calling for action on care. Help us confront the care crisis by backing our campaign now.

NHS-funded nursing care is another area that our research at Which? has shown to potentially being exploited by care homes. If your relative is eligible for nursing care contribution, it is paid directly to the care home by the NHS. This amount should be deducted from your relative's bill, if he or she is paying for their care.

Practical issues

  • When would space be available? Is there a waiting list?
  • What social activities are available?
  • What is the procedure for giving feedback or raising complaints?

Around the home

  • Can a resident bring their own furniture and possessions?
  • Are there private/en suite toilet and bathroom facilities?
  • Is there an outdoor space for residents to use whenever they want? Do they have to ask if they can go outside?

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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.

Visiting the care homes

As well are arming yourself with your list of questions, use all your senses to help inform you: what you see, hear, smell and feel on a visit are as important as what you’re told.

  • See: does seating layout encourage people to socialise? Do residents look happy, well cared-for and relaxed rather than slumped asleep? Look for signs of activity and things to do. This can mean a more able resident doing washing-up, newspapers in easy reach, or personal photos and ornaments scattered around, as much as planned activity.
  • Hear: listen for laughter and chatter. Do staff sit and chat with residents in a way that you and the residents like? Do staff sound like they are working in the residents’ home, rather than residents living in a workplace? Warning sounds to listen out for include shouting and the persistent ringing of unanswered call bells
  • Smell: is there a smell of fresh air rather than air freshener masking unpleasant smells?
  • Feel: do you feel positive as you leave? Visit several times without notice to see what the home’s really like – for example, is supper sandwiches rather than the tempting menu displayed, and is everyone in bed by 7pm? A lot of homes will also welcome your relative for a trial day.

Flexible access

Find out if the home is happy to involve you in your relative’s life – for example, could you do their hair or take them to a teashop? Could you visit when you’d like? How often will you communicate with and meet staff, and how will you raise concerns? Let the home know what would make you feel comfortable and see what they can offer.

Is the home interested in your relative as a person – do they ask questions and demonstrate flexibility? For example, can a late riser stay in bed until 11am or a night owl enjoy a midnight snack? Will there be pub trips for a social drinker? Tell them about your relative’s quirks and interests to gauge this.

Tell the home what your relative likes, rather than your own preferences – rural, or an urban home near shops, or a messy but cosy feel? Will they value that lovely en-suite bathroom or – if they need carers to assist – would a nearby shared bathroom be as good? If they like to walk, is the home set up to offer this – for example, a secure garden with an open door?

Before finally committing

After you and, where possible, your loved one 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.

More information

  • Choosing a care home: find out how to choose the most suitable care homes to suit the needs of a loved one.
  • Care home fees: the all-important questions relating to fees, additional charges and what to look out for in a contract.
  • Care home contracts: the all-important questions relating to fees, additional charges and what to look out for in a contract.

Page last reviewed: January 2018