Choosing the right home care provider
Some of the challenges involved in setting up care at home include:
- working out what type of support is needed;
- choosing the right company or individual to provide the care;
- finding carers who are compatible with the person who needs help;
- and getting to grips with complicated fees and charges.
This step-by-step guide will help you select the most suitable care provider for your needs.
Read our tips below on how to navigate the process, or jump straight to our comprehensive list of questions to ask a home care agency.
Five steps to choosing a home care agency
1. Decide what type of home care you need
One of the main ways to arrange home care is through a domiciliary care agency. These companies provide professional care staff and will take care of all the arrangements for you. If opting for an agency, look for one that can provide care that’s tailored to your needs. For example, are you looking for help with eating and dressing for a few hours a week or do you need 24-hour live-in care? Also consider whether an agency will be able to adapt if your (or your relative’s) needs change in the future.
Alternatively, you could save on agency fees and keep more control over arrangements by hiring a private carer or personal assistant. But be aware, this may mean taking on the responsibilities of an employer.
Before deciding how much professional care is needed, think about whether this could be supplemented with support from family members or friends, or with other less expensive kinds of help around the home, such as a cleaner, gardener or companion.
Finally, consider whether there are any home adaptations or useful gadgets that could help to support your (or a loved one’s) independence. This can also affect how much professional care is required.
Having a good understanding of the different home care options available will help you to avoid feeling pressurised into making a rushed decision during a crisis.
2. Make a list of what you want from a care service
Before you commit to a provider, gather as much information as possible about your requirements so you can compare providers and choose the right one for you.
Consider these key questions first.
- What specific activities do you need help with?
- How often do you want them to visit?
- What time do you want them to visit?
- How many hours a day/week can you afford to have help?
Read more about the different services you can expect from a home care agency.
3. Make a list of local care agencies that meet your needs
Use our care services directory to find domiciliary care providers in your area. This will show you registered agencies that operate in your area, with information about the services they provide, contact details and inspection ratings (where available).
From the drop-down menu labelled ‘Choose type of care’, select Home care and enter your postcode.
You can also ask your local authority’s social care team, a GP or another healthcare professional for recommendations.
4. Check the ratings and make a shortlist
All the providers in our directory are registered with one of the UK’s care regulators. The regulators monitor and inspect services to make sure appropriate standards of quality and safety are met. You’ll find links to their inspection reports in our directory.
Also check whether the agency is a member of the United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA), which has a Code of Practice to ensure that high standards of care are provided.
Make a shortlist of agencies that look like they could meet your needs.
I chose this care agency because it says it has experience of dealing with dementia and one of the key things is consistency.
5. Contact the agencies on your shortlist
Arrange to meet with staff, preferably at your home. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is your opportunity to find out what you need to know. If you can, ask a family member or friend to join you to help keep track of everything that’s discussed.
Use our checklist of questions to ask a home care agency (below) to prepare for your meeting. This covers questions about the staff, the care service, visits, charges and terms & conditions. It will help you focus on the things that are most important for your needs.
Checklist: The questions to ask a home care agency
Use our checklist to help you plan for a meeting with a home care agency. You may not need to ask all of these, but make a note of the questions that are most important for your circumstances. The questions are grouped under the following headings:
- Questions about the carers
- Questions about your care needs
- Questions about the care visits
- Questions about charges, and terms & conditions
- Questions about the care provider
You can also download the questions as a handy checklist to print off and discuss.
Questions about the carers
- How do you recruit your carers?
- Do they go through an interview process before joining the agency?
- Do you check references before offering them work?
- Do they undergo a criminal records check from the Disclosure and Barring Service (England and Wales), Disclosure Scotland (Scotland) or Access NI (Northern Ireland)?
- What qualifications and experience do the carers have? For example, do they have a Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) qualification in lifting and manual handling?
- Are they qualified to deal with specialist conditions, such as dementia or mobility issues?
- What is your turnover of carers like? (A high staff turnover might suggest that staff aren’t happy with their employment.)
- Is it possible for me to interview potential carers in advance?
Questions about your needs / your loved one’s needs
- What services do you provide?
- Are there any specific services that you don’t provide?
- Do you currently provide care for people with similar needs to mine?
- Will you carry out an assessment of my needs and draw up a personalised care plan? (see more below)
- How will you ensure that carers follow the care plan?
- How will you match the most suitable carers to my needs?
- Will I have a regular carer or carers? If I’m incompatible with a carer, can I request a different person?
- Will carers keep records of the care that has been given, including timesheets for visits? Can copies of the records be sent to me if I want them? (Some agencies now keep records online so that family members can have instant access to them).
Questions about the care visits
- Can you provide carers at the times I need care?
- What happens if I need to increase the number or duration of visits in future? Will this be possible?
- How many different carers are likely to visit in a week or in a month?
- What will happen if my carer is off sick or on holiday?
- What is your policy if carers are late or miss a visit?
- How will carers get into my home if I can’t answer the door?
- What happens in the event of a medical emergency? Will the carer stay with me until help comes?
Questions about charges, and terms & conditions
- Do you have a standard contract? Can I see a copy in advance?
- Can you send me a brochure and price list?
- What are your hourly charges? And what do they cover?
- Do charges depend on the level of care that is needed?
- Do prices vary depending on the time of day?
- Are there higher charges for weekends and bank holidays?
- Are there any other extra charges I need to know about – such as travel expenses or call-out fees?
- Is there a minimum charge for people who only need a small amount of support?
- How often is payment required, and what payment methods are accepted?
- Will I have to pay a deposit or make any payments in advance?
- When can prices be increased, and by how much?
- How much notice is required if I need to cancel or change a visit, and will there be a fee?
- What happens if I have to go into hospital for a period of time? Will I still be charged for scheduled home visits while I am in hospital?
- Is it possible to try your service for a short trial period to see how it works out?
- How do I terminate the service? How much notice is required?
Read more about how much home care costs and the different ways it can be funded:
Questions about the care provider
- How long has the agency been in business?
- Are you registered with the relevant care regulator? When was your last inspection?
- Are you a member of the UK Home Care Association (UKHCA)? Have you signed up to their Code of Practice?
- How do I complain if I’m not happy?
- Who will be the main contact person if I need information or have a question (including outside office hours)?
- Do you have insurance, to cover accidents or damage to property, for example?
- Does the agency have procedures in place to:
- ensure the quality of care is maintained?
- protect me from accidents, neglect or self-harm?
- make sure staff respect my privacy and dignity?
- cover the way staff handle my money or belongings?
The questions that a home care agency should ask you
The agency should carry out their own assessment before drawing up a care plan. They should do this regardless of who is arranging and paying for the care. They are likely to look at:
- your care needs, and details of any medical conditions and medication
- your ability to see, hear and communicate
- any problems with continence or mobility and any equipment you use
- any dietary requirements or preferences
- your religious and cultural needs
- your mental capacity and whether you are able to make decisions about your care
- who else is involved in supporting you and does anyone else have authority to make decisions on your behalf, for example, if they hold Power of Attorney
- whether you pose a risk to yourself or others by living at home
- the safety of carers visiting your home
- arrangements for getting access to your house.
If an agency doesn’t carry out an assessment that covers these areas, you should ask them to do so.
If you’re finding it difficult to manage, home care can provide the support you need to stay independent at home.
Live-in care helps you to stay in your own home rather than move to a care home. Find out if it could be right for you.
Guidance on employing personal care assistants, with information about legal issues and financial matters.