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How to choose a home care agency

If you’re searching for care at home, use our step-by-step guide and checklist to help you find the best provider for your needs.
8 min read
In this article
Choosing the right home care provider Five steps to choosing a home care agency Checklist: Questions to ask a home care agency
Your personal care plan: what an agency should ask you Download our checklist of questions to ask a home care agency

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 choose 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 to use 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 private carers or a personal assistant yourself. But be aware, this will mean taking on significant responsibilities as 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 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 a rushed decision during a crisis.

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2. Make a list of what you want from a care service

Before you commit to a provider, think about what you want from professional care. 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 do you want help with?
  • How often do you want them to visit?
  • What time do you want them to visit?
  • What specific activities do you want them to help with?
  • How many hours a day/week can you afford to have help? 

Read more about the different kinds of services you can expect from a home care agency.

3. Make a list of care agencies in the area 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).

Use our directory to find local home care agencies anywhere across the UK.

You can also ask your local authority social care team, GP or other health professionals 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 appear to be able to 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 handy list of questions to ask a home care agency 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.

You can also download the questions as a handy checklist to print off and discuss.

Checklist: Questions to ask a home care agency

Questions to ask a home care agency
(pdf 524 Kb)
Download

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

  • Do you currently provide care for people with similar needs to mine?
  • What services do you provide? 
  • Are there any specific services that you don’t provide?
  • 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 written 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, FEES 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 AGENCY

  • How long has the agency been in business?
  • Are you a member of the UK Home Care Association (UKHCA)? Have you signed up to their Code of Practice?
  • Are you registered with the relevant care regulator? When was your last inspection?
  • 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, if necessary)?
  • 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?

Your personal care plan: what an agency should ask you

The agency should carry out their own assessment before offering a care plan. They should do this regardless of how the care is being arranged and funded (for example, through the council or by an individual). They are likely to look at:

  • the help you need, and details of any medical conditions and medication
  • your ability to see, hear and communicate, and your preferred method of communicating
  • any problems with continence or mobility and any equipment you use
  • any dietary requirements or preferences
  • your religious and cultural needs
  • who else is involved in supporting you
  • your mental capacity and whether you are able to make decisions about your care
  • whether anyone else has a legal role to make decisions on your behalf, because they hold Power of Attorney, for example
  • 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 they don’t carry out an assessment that covers all of these areas, you should ask them to do so.

Download our checklist of questions to ask a home care agency

Questions to ask a home care agency
(pdf 524 Kb)
Download

 

Further reading

Home care options

If you’re finding it difficult to manage, home care can provide the support you need to stay independent at home.

Live-in care

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.

Last updated: 31 Jul 2020