Understanding how care homes operate in the UK
Across the UK there are almost 10,500 registered care homes for older people run by private businesses and non-profit organisations (such as charities and housing associations). These homes provide about 435,000 places in total. There are also a smaller number of residential homes run by local authorities and the NHS, which provide around 27,000 places for older people.
Care homes provide accommodation and meals for older people who are no longer able to live independently, even with the help of carers, family or friends.
There are two types of care home: residential care homes (homes that provide living accommodation, meals and help with personal care) and nursing homes (which also provide nursing care), and most homes are run with these specific needs at their core.
The general term for care homes is also often referred to as residential care.
Care homes can be owned and run by different groups.
- Private (commercial) businesses: may own one, a few or a larger group of care homes. In this sector, the 10 largest companies run 15% of the care homes in the UK, with HC-One, Four Seasons Health Care, Barchester, Care UK and Bupa Care Homes running over 1,100 care homes between them.
- Non-profit organisations: such as charities and housing associations.
- Local authorities: mostly run residential homes rather than nursing homes. The number of local authority care homes has decreased significantly in recent years, and beds are now mainly paid for by local authorities within the private and non-profit care homes.
Care home inspections
Like all care providers in the UK, care homes have to be registered with the appropriate regulator; for example the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in England and the Care Inspectorate in Scotland.
As a part of their registration, each care home has to say what care they specialise in, whether this is residential care, nursing care or other more specialist areas.
In our care services directory, you can search for care homes in any area of the UK and also filter for specialist support, such as dementia.
Specialist support in care homes
Some care homes offer specialist support for people with specific health problems, such as dementia, mental health conditions or physical disabilities, which you can also search for in our directory. It’s also possible to go to some care homes for respite care or day care.
Other care homes might provide a mix of different care types; for example, there might be a certain number of places for residents requiring personal care, a certain number for those people requiring nursing care, and others for those with dementia.
There are also an increasing number of settings where older people can buy or lease a house or flat in the grounds of a care home, known as ‘close care’ and sometimes organised as sheltered housing, assisted living or extra care housing. It will then be possible to move into the main care home later on, either in a residential capacity or as a resident with nursing needs.
Care home fees
Of course, with different levels of need comes different levels of cost of the care. There is also a big difference in care home fees depending on where the care home is in the UK. If you live in England, we have built our cost of care and eligibility calculator to help explain what financial support is available if you're eligible for local authority support or are paying for your care yourself.
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We look at the practical benefits of care homes, including safety and 24-hour help, and at the potential downsides, too.
How to make a shortlist of suitable care homes, and uncover key information to ensure your loved one’s needs are met.